Return to Reason by Stephen Toulmin

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The turmoil and brutality of the twentieth century have made it increasingly difficult to maintain faith in the ability of reason to fashion a stable and peaceful world. After the ravages of global conflict and a Cold War that divided the world's loyalties, how are we to master our doubts and face the twenty-first century with hope?

In Return to Reason, Stephen Toulmin argues that the potential for reason to improve our lives has been hampered by a serious imbalance in our pursuit of knowledge. The centuries-old dominance of rationality, a mathematical mode of reasoning modeled on theory and universal certainties, has diminished the value of reasonableness, a system of humane judgments based on personal experience and practice. To this day, academic disciplines such as economics and professions such as law and medicine often value expert knowledge and abstract models above the testimony of diverse cultures and the practical experience of individuals.

Now, at the beginning of a new century, Toulmin sums up a lifetime of distinguished work and issues a powerful call to redress the balance between rationality and reasonableness. His vision does not reject the valuable fruits of science and technology, but requires awareness of the human consequences of our discoveries. Toulmin argues for the need to confront the challenge of an uncertain and unpredictable world, not with inflexible ideologies and abstract theories, but by returning to a more humane and compassionate form of reason, one that accepts the diversity and complexity that is human nature as an essential beginning for all intellectual inquiry.


About Stephen Toulmin

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Stephen Toulmin was University Professor Emeritus and Henry R. Luce Professor at University of Southern California, and author of, among other books, Cosmopolis and The Uses of Argument.
Published June 30, 2009 by Harvard University Press. 256 pages
Genres: Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Return to Reason

The Guardian

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Stephen Toulmin would approve of the witty first section of the book, in which Dollimore excoriates the postmodern academy's "politically spurious" urge to "theorise" the world in terms of gender or desire, thus turning sex into a self-perpetuating fiction.

Jun 30 2001 | Read Full Review of Return to Reason

Publishers Weekly

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Drawing on Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, William James, Wittgenstein and William Gass, Toulmin argues for redressing the balance between the Ideal (Reason) and the Actual (Reasonableness) in order to respect "the manual skills and practical experiences" of those who have the "right to be the intellectu...

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London Review of Books

For most purposes, whether we have any philosophers around or not doesn’t greatly matter.’ Just as philosophers should not be bewitched by talk of foundations and metaphysical presuppositions, so ordinary folk have no reason to be bewitched by philosophers, whether the philosophers themselves are...

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Project MUSE

Toulmin means by his title that (1) in ancient Greece and even through the time of Montaigne, reason and rationality were much the same, but that (2) as the Enlightenment gathered momentum, rationality became calculation, the engine of progress, while (3) sweet reason, reasonableness, collaborati...

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