“We have lost our reason,” writes philosopher Julian Baggini in the introduction to his latest book, The Edge of Reason, “and our loss is no accident. Gradually, the contemporary West has become more and more dismissive of the power of reason. Caring for it less, we often find we have left it behind.”
The book explores some of the causes and consequences of this loss, and suggests ways in which we can reclaim reason, perhaps counter-intuitively by making “deflationary” (i.e. quite modest, or at least qualified) claims for it. Baggini acknowledges that reason has its limitations, and cannot in the real world be reduced to some abstract model or algorithm. Human beings are irrational in a host of ways, he argues, but reason remains our most powerful tool to tackle the problems – political and ethical – that our complex modern societies face: reason is a means of finding common ground.
Baggini quotes psychologist Dan Ariely with approval: “We are limited, we are not perfect, we are irrational in all kinds of ways. But we can build a world that is compatible with this that gets us to make better decisions rather than worse decisions. That’s my hope.”
At several points in the book, Baggini emphasises the value of careful attending, in other words, listening, tuning in, rather than seeking to devise a knock-down argument. So listen in now to what he has to say about recovering reason. I recorded this podcast with Julian at home in Bristol a few weeks ago.