news center

Reason special: A world based on reason

Reason special: A world based on reason

作者:冯诅埋  时间:2017-06-15 02:01:03  人气:

By Tom Shakespeare Read about all the problems with reason in our special issue Recently I listened with mounting irritation to a famous English philosopher, armoured with all the self-righteousness of humanist rationality, pouring scorn on those benighted souls who persist in outdated religious belief. No theist myself, I came out of the meeting more worried than ever by those who are utterly confident of the triumph of reason. First, I think human beings are evolved to be believing beings. Carl Jung said: “You can take away a man’s gods, only to give him others in return.” Humpty Dumpty’s pride in sometimes believing six impossible things before breakfast may be an extreme case, but examples of credulity or faith are easy to find. Second, I find the utilitarian bioethics of a Peter Singer at Princeton University (or a Julian Savulescu at the University of Oxford) to be a powerful example of what goes wrong when we value logic and consistency above wisdom and pragmatism. It may be “rational” to try everything to avoid having a disabled child – or even to kill a newborn with disabilities – to avoid the burden of care or the suffering of a difficult life. But a world ruled by such cold moral arithmetic would not be one in which I would like to live. Disability is part of the human condition: we are all impaired and will all become more so. We must accept disability as part of the diversity of embodiment, not seek to eliminate it at all costs. As Immanuel Kant wrote: “From the crooked timber of humanity nothing straight was ever made.” Third, I have found emotion and feeling are a necessary and unavoidable part of thinking through complex dilemmas. This is not to say we should be governed by our emotions – as in the notorious “yuck factor” underpinning reactions to developments such as hybrid embryos or xenotransplantation. But nor can we wish away the rich and subtle cultural and psychological complications surrounding deeply meaningful issues such as the food we eat, how we make babies, or engage with our bodies and the products of our bodies. At Newcastle University we researched public feelings about whether parents should be able to choose the sex of their children. Most bioethicists find it hard to see strong reasons against this. But more than 80% of respondents consistently feel it would be wrong. They use phrases such as “children should be a gift, not a commodity” to justify their beliefs. Perhaps it is simply unfamiliarity with the new possibility of embryo selection – over time resistance may diminish. In explaining this divergence between philosophers and lay people, we found moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt‘s work helpful. He challenges the idea that people form moral judgements as judges do, that is, listen to both sides and reach a balanced verdict. He says people are like barristers, who start with an intuition, and look for supporting arguments. He calls this “post-hoc rationalisation”. This is exactly what we found. Respondents could cite reasons to support their view of social sex selection, but they had reached their position because of an intuition. But then, I am not so sure philosophers are so different from the lay public, it’s just that the former are trained to cover their tracks with an impressive edifice of arguments and logic. It is hard to be truly objective, to eliminate our history and culture and psychology from our thinking. Even bioethicists are human. So I don’t hate reason, and I certainly don’t want to dispense with rationality. Faced with the rhetoric of a bigot, I reach for rationality every time to counter his prejudices. But I also recognise that the twisted beliefs of racists or homophobes emerge from a complex mix of fears, half-truths and insecurities. Logic and evidence rarely suffice to dislodge them. For me, ethical judgement has three facets. Strong arguments plus good empirical data, certainly, but let’s open a place for feelings, emotions and beliefs. They are part of the human approach to making sense of the world and we would be much worse off without them. I reserve the right to be inconsistent, ground my thinking in messy practicalities, and live up to the fundamental messiness of life. Rationality is a tool, not a universal acid. After all, didn’t Niels Bohr once retort to a pig-headed colleague: