thumbnail of Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; The eclipse of reason, part one
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
From the Great Hall of the Cooper Union in New York City. National Educational radio presents the Cooper Union forum series on peace love and creativity the hope of mankind. These programs were recorded by station WNYC. Here now is the chairman of the Cooper Union forum Dr. Johnson effect child. Good evening ladies and gentlemen welcome to the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art this year chairman Johnson the first chairman of the group forum and I am welcoming you to our program. Peace love creativity which we think may be the hope of the topic for discussion tonight has to do with general course of reason.
If you do not associate this with the topic of things more than career I think you should raise a great deal to do with. This. The doctors still believe MORGAN INVESTOR. Dr. Martin Besser from Columbia University happens to be a professor of philosophy. But we will not hold this against him. I come from the sort of places Jewish Theological Seminary carved in the city of New York University of Pennsylvania in addition to Wallace and being a philosopher. Is a very nice intelligent.
I'm very happy to have him back here on the Cooper Union platform where he spoke on previous occasions. It's my pleasure to resent that the Sunday morning bus will. I think if I wouldn't I wouldn't be here. Now I mean if you're in charge of a coming I'm not quite sure what's happening. I think I'm not quite sure what that might mean. Well together neither am I. When I accept them. Well you know you want under that title. So let's begin talking about the general happening that he can read and. Write me to try to see what
kinds of issues arise I think some of you know that in the 30s many social scientists philosophers and publishers describe that period of the period in which reason with the clips that they had in mind of course was that they were a great number of irrational movements a move fascist movement that was considered a rational in the sense that they defended irrational powers and irrational actions. And the title of the phrase eclipse of reason was used our domestic way. It was used by people to serve to predict this type of irrationalism would ultimately disappear and ultimately reason might triumph again. Whether their optimism was justified is not what I'm going to discuss tonight of a possibility that is what we want and that is whether reason really triumph of us or a certain kind of force triumph which was
identified with anti irrationalism. Now the distinction between anti-rational isn't a defense of reason is roughly the following There is a great number of people who would have criticized the naturals as irrational did not necessarily agree with certain kinds of programs that traditionally had been baptizes programs which offended reason or insisted that reason was sovereign or insisted that man was a rational animal. And theologians people who had conservative ideology. Insisted that traditionally people had over emphasized. The role of reason or the primacy of reason and that actually a proper approach to life and the politics and a proper approach to a correct interpretation of the nature of science or art requires that we minimize the role of reason or minimize our insistence or our description or our explanation
of the role that reason plays in these areas. And that in that the rigorous sense one might say that people felt that reason ought to be equipped. One should not overemphasize its role. We hear the saying today on the various press Isaiah Berlin has written a number of interesting and important books. And various people whom you considered or described as irrational or people who defended the irrational. I think this is slightly misleading because when pressed Berman describes them as offending the irrational one might think that this is really the sort of while people insisting upon the importance of yelling screaming just letting yourself go. It wasn't that at all with Professor Berlin makes very clear in his writings was once again primarily negative he says. As for the limitations of a certain kind of 18th century approach or that which had
been emphasized in the 18th century approach the emphasis on reason than Professor Bell press and let time have taken over in America a view that was very popular in France in the 50s that ideologies on the part of the possibility of ideology. The possibility of having an ideology is over people in the 18th century might have felt that once again one blames the 18th century on the scribe of the century in that particular way. Just possibly for the sake of having some convenient place to begin a proper description of the various thinkers in the 18th century is itself very debatable point. What constitutes a proper The description of that thinking is not very clear but only right. Once again a great number of people felt that people who emphasized reason thought that one could get what vaguely is called an ideology and people like that all the time in England in America
and various people in France. Once you insist the right manner on that one doesn't. One can't really have an ideology and somehow all of this is related to some notion that reason has been overemphasized and once again I can continue using this metaphor that reason ought to be equipped to know what's involved here is very hard for me to describe clearly not because I don't have enough time because I'm not quite sure what the easiest thing to say north of the truest thing is that there are a couple of interrelated issues that one must thing with. And so let's try to begin by some simple common everyday phenomenon. I think three of them and then see what's involved here and then we go and we'll generalize. Now we all know that the word reason or reasonable is we're often used to describe a certain kind of method we might employ to influence people or to try to change their
behavior. We might say we employ reason we try to give them good reasons to change not obviously to all of us but this particular method of trying to get people to change their behavior has its limitations the proverbial case of a man running down the street with a gun you don't expect policemen and presumably all the citizens and yellow you have to have a policeman there when you don't expect a policeman to go and start reasoning with him. You expect to have for him a ploy a certain kind of force that we immediately. Well this particular type of critique of the role of reason that there are very many times that one can be reasonable and one can't undertake to alter people's behavior by appealing to them rationally or giving them good reasons. While the star I think is a commonplace an extremely well was well known I suppose to anyone who ever defended the role of reason for a very simple reason if you're forgiven because one could give good reasons once again when one shouldn't employ reason there's nothing
self-contradictory here and saying that reason has been equips that one is simply saying that there are certain times in which reasoning is actually not to be undertaken and a person who believes in reason isn't necessarily going to deny this because he can give good reasons why one shouldn't engage in a certain kind of dialogue. So the proverbial criticism is it's too commonplace and I don't think it's ever overlooked by anyone. The second thing about religion or its limits which I think we all are aware of and I simply mention it to get out of the way is the fact that we're all accustomed to circumstances in which we are convinced that certain things are or certain patterns of action or a certain pattern a particular kind of an act a certain kind of an act that we all ought to undertake or excuse me that we should undertake as individuals. And we might think that it's right or the right thing to do is either to do something or to abstain or not to do something. And very
very frequently with all this thinking about we do we do the opposite. We think it's the best thing is to stay home we go and this sort of thing about the kind of limitation of reason also is well known in the sort of the limitation of the causal role of reason. Traditionally it was known on the freedom of the world from saying call on the good that we want to do we do not the evil that we do not want to do we do. Traditionally this was not known necessarily under the notion of reason this was simply now under the guise of the freedom of the will. We were certain things and certainly and certainly we find ourselves doing something else and traditionally it was once again described as the will is not free in the sense that hey go and do it use the freedom. Nice marriage here between St. Paul and he going to do in Hagar's and freedom namely freedom having to do with power we have. We're free to do this we can do this. The will isn't free the Will can't do certain things or we can't do certain things we will to do.
There are a few very well-known and elaborate Christian interpretations of why we have this impotence of the well which I suppose many of us would not accept. Well at any rate I'm not going to describe it. Now is this now once again this is a commonplace observation and therefore people who insist that man is a rational animal I mean we want to say it once again didn't. Of course they knew this I mean if they it would be too silly too obvious a point not to know if you think that traditionally people who said in an irrational animal didn't know this or that reason this sovereign I presume you didn't give him you wouldn't give him credit for a certain amount of elementary common sense. What I think they had in mind the spike of course is a simple thing namely at least let's take the 18th and 19th and 20th century version of the people who might have insisted on this namely that there are trees that there are a number of causal factors at work. And if you wish a certain
kind of training or certain kind of development which might result in certain kinds of behavior patterns. And very very often when we have certain kinds of control and other people down this control and sort of speak it isn't as it were without any cause without any background and therefore reason in the sense of inquiry could discover these particular things. And if we want our actions to be controlled by reason of just taking the word glibly for the moment namely if we believe that a certain thing is the right thing to have the power to to be able to act on it. The fact that a lot of people now don't have it is merely an indication that there's something to be discovered and not necessarily an ultimate limitation of human power. Let me say in trashing that a great deal of discussion common sense discussion Abass factor is obviously quite unclear. I mean very often when we actually want to do certain things and
we know it's the right thing and we don't do it we know the right thing is not there when we do do it. Very often in order to explain why it occurs we simply baptize our ignorance by merely saying that well it's due to emotion or it's due to irrational factors and we think we have an explanation when we appeal to this due to either emotion or due to irrational factors. And there are factors beyond our control or the emotion overcame our reason in all these particular things all that we're doing is baptizing a certain kind of factor and thinking that we've that we've explained that there is all that we know is that we haven't done that which we think is the reasonable thing and we baptize the factors that might be relevant by or by calling them irrational. But of course I'm for audion grounds. If one believes in the Freud in theory then it's quite in harmony with this what I call the secular view the inquiry
view of the limitation of reason namely that one could by DO investigation find out right now actually why people don't have the power to act on what they consider reasonable. And once we discover it might be able to have proper training enable them to do it. As you well know right in theory it is part and parcel same approach. If there are irrational factors which are controlling us then presumably by a certain amount of either analysis or self or proper reading or proper approach with analysis presumably some of these things will be discovered. So once again the entire emphasis currently on the irrational and the emotion whatever. And obviously this merely indicates something. Which is I mean even the headline a very complicated thing. Once again I merely want to reiterate that this is very little to do I think with a critique of the traditional view of the sovereign. The reason that man
actually is a rational animal. The notion of freedom of course comes in another way and that very often we say someone is free if a hypothesis is not really acting in accord with a particular program or you which is not following a particular kind of recipe. So that very often we say that an artist this free a person in a factory isn't or really free if we're expressing ourselves. And when we really express ourselves freely if we do what we want and we go along creatively and we're not bogged down by if you wish routine or reason then and then and then only can man reach a certain kind of height of self-expression and a certain type of contentment. This is a certain if you wish a certain kind of critical reason a completely different sort namely that actually one finds if you wish
throughout what criticisms of contemporary life that contemporary life is routinized people follow routines. People who follow routines find their way there and actually as a result of trying their lives though one must find a particular kind of other approach and reason has become identified with rooting and the antithesis then is the so-called free creative act. Either the artist or the child when the creative act is the act in which presumably we accomplish certain things and we do not. When we come push these particular things once again for our set pattern or a set ritual. Now people who talk this way frequently also say that there is a limitation here on a particular kind of particular temper that people traditionally undertook who defended reason namely a particular kind of attempt to understand what makes or how human beings act. People for example who defended reason although not all people who defended reason
also insisted that a certain kind of system that people who are scientist might discover relative to which they might be able to explain human action. Very often people who insisted on this also insisted that people's actions speak determined and one can find general law as a rule rather to which are core to which one can explain human behavior and I think there's a great deal of and possibly pre-death And I think you will find two things here that are interrelated but obviously distinguish one. A certain kind of thesis about what people really want they really want to be free in the sense of not following routine. They don't want to follow rules. They want to sort of create it well they want to play or was play in the best sense of play. This is one thing Secondly this is taken to be a limitation or a critique that presumably people had that. Action is actually regarded or action could be described
by law or predicted by law if you look at some of Barrett's things on the irrational. Sometimes he identifies this kind of thing. The free the freedom of the artist the creativity of the of the child as not merely something which is desirable but also something which presumably is a limit shows limitations of a certain kind of approach that people who defended reason had system and emphasis on determinism. But taking the last point first is obviously a non-sequitur. It's easy enough if a child does things which occur and he hasn't yet or she is behaving in a way that the child is not following rules it doesn't follow at all that a scientist looking at the child couldn't really give easy predictions as to the actual moves the children will make. Many children's books are replete with predictions of how the child will be actually created.
As for them our point is concerned of the point of the word morals I think too strong here. As far as the the point about human psychology is concerned what people really want then I think it's harder to come to any interesting conclusion except the following simple one namely that the whole dichotomy here seems misleading. People who play baseball very often come and do very creative things rather playing baseball and certainly its rule guided. The same thing comes up very often comparison with cultures very often cultures are very often considered guided by rules. The primitive cultures and then the advanced cultures are not actually any primitive cultures. If you read the descriptions of most of the rules that they have governing their behavior allows for a great deal of latitude in terms for various kinds of actions I mean take a very esoteric culture that I happen to have studied at one time Orthodox Judaism. If there are certain kinds of rules as to how one actually prays but
within these rules there are all sorts of variations of how one might read the service and that's actually for anyone who's involved is a great free unpredictable act from the outside you might think it's all rue guided but believe me it isn't. Moreover things to me that if you look at how our jails work and the work of other psychologists I think one finds that there isn't a thorough truth that there isn't actually in play behavior almost the drive to discover the rules. It doesn't seem to me at all correct to make this artificial dichotomy between if you wish complete rule guide behavior and sort of free behavior. Most a good number of human actions both of these things are interrelated in the various aspects involved. At any rate completely routinized behavior is not identified with Rule guided behavior and therefore I don't even know if it's the fact that we are not we don't want completely routinized behavior. It doesn't follow at all that we're not we don't
know we're not motivated to have rules and are guided by rules. Now these are things that. I merely suggest that I have merely thrown them out because I think if one looks at a great number of a good deal of the literature the role of reason of the limitations of reason one finds I think repeatedly emphases on these sorts of things. Either that the emphasis that very often one can't engage simply in rational discussion or the second way the very often reason actually is limited in its cause left the cafe and third reason becoming identified with the rational and the rational with regard to behavior and the critic therefore being that reason actually is limited because we don't want to have once again simply the routinized the root in life becomes identified with Rule guided and the complete antithesis between that and completely free and spontaneous and things of this nature frequently
indicated that have been used to indicate that reason has its limits now. As I said to you. Now I think that I've mentioned I've mentioned certain things which I don't think of for the emphasis on the causal limits of reason. The rack of rudeness ration of those who are not to be routinized all these things I think are sort of elementary truths I think however is that the antithesis frequently is not clear and it's to be and a lot of these particular emphasis they use against rules or the importance of rules and I think don't really indicate I don't sufficiently take care of certain aspects of what's involved with the emphasis on reason in the role of reason. What could be meant or what historically had been meant by some people are by the phrase reason and its limits.
So let's begin again keeping these things in mind and begin on the notion of what could be meant by the fact that man is a rational animal. Taking it for granted that he isn't always Prudential that this is was a this was well known. But one simple way of analyzing the phrase is simply that man. Man from or in the same machine is distinguishing trait is that he can't entertain concepts or he can't formulate concepts. He has reason simply has a certain kind of to use the phrase psychologists frequently use. He has a certain kind of cognitive ability. And because he has this cognitive ability namely to form concepts as other being able to form concepts he can be distinguished from or all the other animals. Nah forget what's up here. There are a great number of traits that one could use to distinguish men from other animals. It's easy enough to say man is the only animal that has a newspaper. Man is the only animal that has a divorce court. There are a great number of
things which men of the human community alone possesses. The emphasis on concepts is however easily enough explained. Presumably all of these particular things presuppose the having a concept. Unless man had concepts then presumably he couldn't have these other things. So it wasn't that men alone have reason and there's no rather distinguishing trait there may be a load of other distinguishing traits but it's not correct according to tradition to emphasize these other traits as much as an exercise in these particular things. Just this is one aspect it's obviously not the only aspect. Emphasized this is the beginning of a thesis in order to understand what man is why we get a sense of what man is like. With the emphasis on concepts now currently a great number of philosophers and psychologists don't find us at all the ruminating consumer for example who thinks this is a must say one shouldn't emphasize the fact that man and concepts are can have concepts and
I think a lot of you familiar with the thesis because Susan Lang the man actually is a symbol making Animal Man is symbolized. Now this may be correct but as an antithesis but I find this quite on Alumina reading and moreover if one reads some of the summit we Susan mangle the season. What's involved here. A man being a symbolic animal. It actually comes down to actually something along the lines that. Well if you look at the new key it turns out that for a man a man is distinguished from animals in the following way that animals actually sign behavior they. That is they can only take the occurrence of one event as evidence for the occurrence of another event so that it would take the proverbial case of it gets dark than the clouds get dark they might think it rains or the
bell rings or they expect food. We're taking evidence is to be given ultimately a behavioral definition they set themselves for food. But man isn't that way he doesn't have to pay. He isn't necessarily restricted to this sort of behavior he doesn't have to take certain kinds of events or the occurrence of certain kinds of events as evidence for other events. He's freer than that. He can take all sorts of occurrences and treat them in all sorts of ways not necessarily as evidence for something else but meaning something else it's a much broader sense of meaning. For example if I heard of the sentence there's a man in this room. You don't necessarily have to take that particular sentence that evidence or anything else. You might if I say there's a fire in this room you might take my uttering of the sentence as evidence of the fact that there's going to be a fire. But very often you understand certain things. Without necessarily And there's an event of utterance and you understand the content of the utterance but you don't take the event necessarily as evidence
for the occurrence of another event. So how come we can do this. This is the emphasis on the symbolization process. Well all that it comes down to as far as I can see. As she put it that ultimately man can entertain concepts and it is actually said explicitly so that everything surfaces that you find in certain areas of philosophy or by certain philosophers and certain psychologists. I was thinking between signs and symbols and the emphasis on simple behavior rather than saw in behavior. I'm not saying that there is no advance but very often as you look at it it's not clear to me at any rate that there's much of an advance of the traditional issue about man being an animal or an entity or that forms concepts. There are however more difficult problems involved in that whether it is correct to say that animals don't form concepts. And if one actually comes to the conclusion that that there is no good reason to deny that animals form concepts
Please note: This content is only available at GBH and the Library of Congress, either due to copyright restrictions or because this content has not yet been reviewed for copyright or privacy issues. For information about on location research, click here.
Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind
The eclipse of reason, part one
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-8s4jr41b).
Episode Description
This program presents the first part of a lecture by Sidney Morgenbesser, Columbia University.
Other Description
This series presents lectures from the 1968 Cooper Union Forum. This forum's theme is Peace, Love, Creativity: The Hope of Mankind.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Producing Organization: Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Speaker: Fairchild, Johnson E.
Speaker: Morgenbesser, Sidney, 1921-2004
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-10-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:30
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; The eclipse of reason, part one,” 1968-02-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 9, 2022,
MLA: “Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; The eclipse of reason, part one.” 1968-02-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 9, 2022. <>.
APA: Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; The eclipse of reason, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from