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Within Reason: Rationality and Human Behavior Hardcover – July 1, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0756759131 ISBN-10: 0756759137

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Diane Pub Co (July 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0756759137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0756759131
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,042,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Neurology researcher and clinician Donald Calne compares defining reason to assembling an incomplete jigsaw puzzle: we don't have all the pieces, and the pieces we do have don't always fit together well. But that doesn't stop him from setting out on the ambitious task of surveying our current understanding of reason and the historical role it has played for our species.

Within Reason begins with a simple--and in some ways counterintuitive--definition of reason, calling it a mere tool, not a motivator of humanity but an enabler. A powerful and versatile tool to be sure, but one whose purpose is specific to helping us get what we want, not revealing why it is that we want it. With this supposition, Calne methodically dissects reason's role in such spheres as ethics, government, language, and religion, supporting each assertion with historical anecdotes and the writing and research of others.

If Within Reason is any indication, Donald Calne would be charming dinner company. While you might not agree with every point he makes, you'd never be disappointed by the conversation. --Paul Hughes --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

Does the ability to reason determine human behavior? If we thought more clearly and rationally, could we avoid such catastrophes as war? These are the quesitons Calne asks in this philosophical and scientific inquiry. ``When I was young,'' says neurologist Calne (Univ. of British Columbia, Canada), director of the Neurodegenerative Disorders Centre at Vancouver Hospital, ``I was taught that education was important because without it we would be doomed to stupid behavior and opinions based upon prejudice.'' But if education brought wisdom, he later queried, ``how was it possible that Germany, the home of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Goethe, Leibniz, and Kant could become a nation driven by hatred and complicit in the worst crimes against humanity?'' His exploration for a definition of reason and an answer to his conundrum takes him here through neurology (brain structure and function) and evolution, considers the interweave between reason and social behavior and ethics, and then examines how reason has been invoked in the creation and maintenance of such cultural institutions as commerce, government, religion, art, and science. Calne agrees with the evolutionary evidence that intelligence and reasoning evolved as humans developed social organization, specifically, from the evolutionary need for individuals to cooperate in order to survive. Calne is clear in sorting through all this material: philosophy and psychology provide the principles by which reason operates, but reason itself is simply a tool. It is instinct rather than reason, he argues, which still sets our goals. How we then reach the goals is the part that involves reasoning. The strongest illustration of his argument is the existence of religion: ``Reason can discredit religion so readily,'' says Calne, ``yet religions flourishes. We must conclude that the human needs for religion are very powerful,'' And therefore, in striving to solve societal problems, we first have to establish goals that appeal to our instincts and most basic motivations; only then will reason help us find the best way to reach them. Thought-provoking and clear, this is a useful and enjoyable exercise. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Non sequiturs don't count.
Jim May (jmay@lvcm.com)
The author leaves us with no rationaL criteria to classify actions as right or wrong, good or bad.
Thomas R. Corwin
Furthermore, his warm and lucid writing style is exceptionally readable.
Judy Baldwin(converge@istar.ca,

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By "freethoughtmecca" on June 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The introduction was intriguing, with its references to the paradoxical barbarity that had manifested itself in a highly educated society like Nazi Germany, but I had the impression that Calne tried to be too far reaching in his attempts to fit rationality in its proper place within human behavior. One of his basic premises is that rationality is not an end in itself, but rather a tool employed on the behalf of human instincts. While this certainly has a ring of truth to it, the thesis is by no means radical, which is why I wonder if abler attempts have been made to dissect the role of reason within human behavior. I would recommend skimming Calne's book if one had the opportunity to examine his major premises, but otherwise I was left dissatisfied by my sense that the topic he was trying to tackle was a much bigger fish than his line could handle.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Judy Baldwin(converge@istar.ca, on June 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Within Reason is one of the most stimulating books I've read in some time.
Dr. Calne discusses issues surrounding the brain (still one of life's great mysteries) that most of us either take for granted or haven't even begun to consider. His writings draw from an impressive range of sources: scientific, medical, historical, cultural, sociological, religious and beyond. Furthermore, his warm and lucid writing style is exceptionally readable.
Whether or not one agrees with each and every one of Dr. Calne's views is not the issue. For me, this book's greatest value lies in its ability to explain abstract concepts involving the brain, reason and human behaviour and to generate considerable thought and conversation.
This is a book written by an important neurologist and researcher who is not simply talking to himself and his peers -- he is talking to me, the layperson.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Thomas R. Corwin on January 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I expected the author to discuss the relation between reason and goodness, especially since he raises the provocative paradox early in the book about how very intelligent and reasonable people can do bad and evil things. His thesis is that reason/intelligence/science is morally neutral, and that our behavior is motivated by instinct, independent of our intellects. So he ends up explaining all the puzzling aspects of human behavior as instinctive: psychopaths lack brain module X, religious people have overactive brain module Y., etc. The result is intellectually unsatisfying. The author leaves us with no rationaL criteria to classify actions as right or wrong, good or bad. I far prefer Brand Blanshard's Reason and Goodness (1966) on this topic.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sabreur on May 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The core argument of this book, that reason or rational thinking is a value-free activity, which we can put to whatever use we please, is indisputable. At the same time, I think there is great value in stating the argument as directly as this book does. However, the discussion in the book is often reductive, digressive at best, scattered at worst. In addition, the author's own phobias and neuroses are frequently on display (a rather morbid view of sex is an example). A good editor probably could have done wonders to focus the author's work and eliminate some of the overt weirdness.
The subject deserves a more nuanced and better edited discussion.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Wolf on November 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Look, this is not the most well-written book (Calne is a scientist after all, not a writer). It's not the best page-turner either.
But the reason this is a good book is because of its thesis and subsequent discussion of rationality and its psychological correlates. There aren't enough books out there that deal with this, so it's a swig of cold water to read this one.
Of course, David Hume came to these same conclusions almost 4 centuries ago. The insight is not what's original, but the attempt to anchor it within the scientific (rather than philosophic) framework is. The implications of the idea that Reason is just a tool for getting what we want are significant for philosophy (especially ethics and political philosophy). Read the book; skim it if necessary, but it is worth your money.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Why this book exists probably has more to do with marketing than anything current intellectually. The book is marketed as if this neurologist had something to say about how the wiring of the brain sheds light on reason--as if he were one of the recent crop of neurologists (e.g., Damasio, LeDoux) shedding light on the brain. In fact, he is not This is mostly philosophy, not neurology. His philosphical assumptions come from a classical education, circa 1950, with no hint of what has happened since. He seems not even to know how to discriminate between his interpretative assumptions and what he is claiming to interpret. And what little--and it is precious little-he says about neurology is at odds with all of the currently important neurological studies of thought. This guy is behind the times in his own field, or else just intellectually incompetent to understand his field. BTW, I have no problem with the basic thesis: I agree with it completely. But the notion of reason as an instrument is extremely old, and better developed by others decades, if not centuries, ago.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Prudence M. Thorner on June 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At last, a new, non-technical work that examines the role of rationality (vs. emotionality) in determining human behavior. Donald Calne has written a readable and thorough study of the role of reason in religion, commerce, government, the arts, science, and behavior. He ponders the nature of the human mind and where it dwells. This is a fascinating work, lucidly written so that it is easily accessible to the lay reader, in which the author provides an elaborate reference work to the writings of many great philosophers on these subjects.
Highly recommended to all those interested in the nature of human consiousness, and the extent to which rational thought rules our actions.
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