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The Edge of Reason: A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World Hardcover – October 25, 2016
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Acknowledging that most of us form our fundamental beliefs irrationally, he argues that the role of rational argument is to give and assess objective reasons based on the existing evidence for our beliefs; reasons which are assessable and comprehensible by any competent person, that stand or fall irrespective of our personal beliefs, and that are compelling, yet open to revision if the evidence changes. In the broadest sense of the term, reason is seen as the ability to explain and justify our beliefs and commitments, and it is understood to involve personal judgement.
There are interesting discussions relating reason to the scientific process, to the findings of psychology and psychiatry, to politics and of course to philosophy.
Nevertheless, I give this book 4 stars. I heartily recommend it. Why not 5 stars? Sometimes the best way to appreciate an argument is not to try and defend it, but to do all you can to refute it. This is what Baggini is up to in this book. "Reason" has fallen on hard times in philosophy and culture. Baggini is out to rescue it. In the opening line to his introduction, he says, "We have lost our reason, . . . the contemporary West has become more and more dismissive of the power of reason." p. 1. The entire book is an effort to refute "the outre dismissals of reason that have become the new common sense." Id. I am for Bagginni here and all those like him; however, he fails. Nonetheless, it is a magnificent failure. From this failure we can see the force of all those "outre dismissals of reason" and finally come to grips with what we must do next.
Bagginni bemoans the loss of "reason." He sees why we need it, much like some see why we need God. However, in the end, Baggini cannot prove the existence of "reason." His conception is, he admits, a "thin" one. Alas, it is so "thin" that it just disappears.
At the end of the book, Baggini gives us a "user's guide to reason." It is a 52 point - that's right only 52 points that you have to know and keep handy - guide to help you be reasonable in all things. It's like a Luther's Small Catechism of "reason," except it's Baggini's. The problem with all of this is that by the end you have the sinking feeling that the "outre dismissals of reason" have been fully justified. The concept is hollow. The "reason" that is defended is not going to rescue us from any serious problem. It is just not up to the task. Ok, maybe something is there, but it's so "thin" that you can't see it when it turns sideways, and if a decent wind of passion or emotion comes along "reason" will surely blow away.
The book deserves 4 stars and should be read, because it offers the best argument for a "thin" conception of "reason," and that argument fails. We need to come to grips with the consequences. What does this mean, exactly? Where are we in a society that so desperately needs not merely "reason" but "REASON"? Did we get rid of God to quickly? Is the ship finally on the shoals? No doubt we "need" reason, just like we need God. But, is it there? Is it real? Is there anything of substance to the notion of "reason" (emphasis now on the little "r").
Needing something doesn't make it true or real. It's back to the drawing board!