Friday, October 21, 2005

Russell - 'The Bomb and Civilisation'

"One is tempted to feel that Man is being punished, through the agency of his own evil passions, for impiety in inquiring too closely into the hidden secrets of Nature. But such a feeling is unduly defeatist. Science is capable of conferring enormous boons: it can lighten labour, abolish poverty, and enormously diminish disease. But if science is to bring benefits instead of death, we must bring to bear upon social, and especially international, organization, intelligence of the same high order that has enabled us to discover the structure of the atom. To do this effectively we must free ourselves from the domination of ancient shibboleths, and think freely, fearlessly and rationally about the new and appalling problems with which the human race is confronted by its conquest of scientific power." - Bertrand Russell (1945).


michael said...

Some would say that it is the insistence on rational thought that got us in the mess we find ourselves today. Some like Stocker say that rational thought is not to be done when considering values, which the variouse possible styles at which to aim interms of the health of society seems to be, and that only sound judgement is possible (Martin I'm not taking a shot, this is just an essay that I was reading today, and these are the terms Stocked used to couch his argument).

One can make perfectly acceptable decisions that don't seem to have anything to do with being rational: which wine to drink, which CD to listen to, which book to read... These of course can all be decided on a rational but it would seem that more often than not this is not the case. So if sound choice rather than rational choice, and sound because there's nothing wrong with it rather than it being the logical conclusion to draw, works so well day to day, why insist on abandoning it on bigger issues? (please don't point out to me that this is a rational argument. It is logical, and follows the rules of logic - to a greater or lesser degree depending on your bias - and the system of logic is a derivative of rationality, so yes to an extent I am using rationality to argue against rationality, and not gaining a contradiction so ending in a paradox, but you get that.)

I just thought that maybe we sould try other means as well. Don't know what they are, but mainly its a move against rationality rather than towards anything else.

And, beside the point, no I don't feel like man is being punished.

MH said...

Michael - did you actually read Russell's essay? Or are you just pulling apart a passage I thought interesting, without considering the passage in it's context? I'm asking because if you read the essay then you've an interesting view on Russell's position.

As an aside, a considered expostion of Stocker's position might be in order (say one thousand words, for wednesday).

michael said...

It was meant as an aside. it read like an aside. it was a random thought. I have no intention of backing it up. discussion has been laging. why don't you play the ball rather than the man and say something of great intelligence in relation to my aside and the Russel essay. Say, for Wednesday?

Samuel Douglas said...

I would have said that it was a misuse of rational thought that got us into this mess.

How acceptable decisions can be made without them being rational is a tricky question. Since many everyday ones are made out of habit, it would seem that you are turning conservative on us Michael.

michael said...

maybe your right Sam, But if so you are turning existentialist, what with this 'habit' from which some of us awake.

yes, I'm trying to figure this out, and the most extensive structure I have found so far is Richardson's. his is a three level system, the shallow level being along the lines of 'look, we compare things and reach decision, so they must be comparable; what more do you what?', the bottom level is something like 'all things can be measred on the one scale, so what really happens if that we value things in so far as they are examples of the source value' and the middle level which as yet I find murky. something to do with weak commensurability (occasion specific), but not really sure.

But I don't really know what to do with it yet. Any thoughts?

MH said...
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Samuel Douglas said...

Existentialist!? (Insert appropriate level of scorn here)

The problem is the use of so-called rational thought, without enough transparency and self-critique. Observance of the power relations at work would also help to ensure that the 'real' outcomes and agendas being pursued were in line with the ostensible ones. Seriously, I don't see amny good alternatives at this point to rationality.

(On the other hand, the Communists and the U.S. never really threw down, so maybe it wasn't so crazy after all.)

michael said...

no, sadly your quite right about the lack of appropriate alternative, but still, maybe one should be looked for in an attempt to iron out the problems of insufficient information, which aren't going to be solved any time soon.