Irrationality➷ [Reading] ➹ Irrationality By Justin E. H. Smith ➬ – A fascinating history that reveals the ways in which the pursuit of rationality often leads to an explosion of irrationalityIt's a story we can't stop telling ourselves Once humans were benighted by s A fascinating history that reveals the ways in which the pursuit of rationality often leads to an explosion of IrrationalityIt's a story we can't stop telling ourselves Once humans were benighted by superstition and Irrationality but then the Greeks invented reason Later the Enlightenment enshrined rationality as the supreme value Discovering that reason is the defining feature of our species we named ourselves the rational animal But is this flattering story itself rational In this sweeping account of Irrationality from antiuity to today from the fifth century BC murder of Hippasus for revealing the existence of irrational numbers to the rise of Twitter mobs and the election of Donald Trump—Justin Smith says the evidence suggests the opposite From sex and music to religion and war Irrationality makes up the greater part of human life and historyRich and ambitious Irrationality ranges across philosophy politics and current events Challenging conventional thinking about logic natural reason dreams art and science pseudoscience the Enlightenment the internet jokes and lies and death the book shows how history reveals that any triumph of reason is temporary and reversible and that rational schemes notably including many from Silicon Valley often result in their polar opposite The problem is that the rational gives birth to the irrational and vice versa in an endless cycle and any effort to permanently set things in order sooner or later ends in an explosion of unreason Because of this it is irrational to try to eliminate Irrationality For better or worse it is an ineradicable feature of lifeIlluminating unreason at a moment when the world appears to have gone mad again Irrationality is fascinating provocative and timely.

Justin E H Smith is professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Paris –Denis Diderot His books include The Philosopher A History in Six Types Princeton An editor at large of Cabinet Magazine he also writes freuently for the New York Times Harper’s Magazine and other publications.

Hardcover  ì Irrationality PDF Ä
  • Hardcover
  • 344 pages
  • Irrationality
  • Justin E. H. Smith
  • English
  • 08 April 2014
  • 9780691178677

10 thoughts on “Irrationality

  1. Thomas says:

    For me this was a good book but not exactly perfect I do think this is an important book though you might never guess that based on the number of reviews so far When I first saw it for sale I knew I had to get it because it’s been a pet peeve of mine for a long time that so many people claim to be so terribly rational and yet are clearly not Human beings are not rational creatures and never have been We have our moments but they tend to be brief Reason has taken us a long way but only because a little goes a long waySo here we’re taken on a journey through history and current events to explore how some of our most cherished ideas about rationality such as how the Enlightenment brought it into sharp focus and beueathed its legacy to the modern world is far from the whole story Irrationality is baked into everything we do and is always ready to push back when reason threatens to take over When things get difficult we tend to trust our gut even when we shouldn’tThis book certainly is as ambitious as it claims to be in the synopsis It covers a lot of ground maybe too much for its length Some of the chapters could be entire books on their own It contains a lot of references to philosophers and thinkers through the ages; some that I’ve heard of and some that I’ve barely heard of if at all The author seems to take for granted that the reader knows who all these people are I’ve always fancied myself as having a pretty decent vocabulary but if you’re no smarter than I am and you want to get as much as you can out of this book keep a dictionary handy I felt rather dumb sometimes though I did get the gist of what he was sayingThere were moments when this book seems to meander and I was left wondering what any of this stuff has to do with his point about us being irrational Maybe if I was smarter or better educated I would get it but I thought he could’ve been clearer in places Still if you can get past that it is a fascinating journey and I often found myself not caring if he ever got to the point because I was learning lots of interesting things Still in the end the point becomes or less clear We have always been irrational and we probably always will be so we might as well reconcile ourselves to that fact especially since we’re living in a time when this it could come back to bite us The revolution that is the Internet coupled with our irrational human nature threatens to bring democracy and possibly civilization itself crashing down if we don’t learn to make better use of the faculties we have The author doesn’t seem to offer any solutions to the problem of a world gone mad but the implications are clear Self awareness is important We may not be as rational as we thought we were but we are capable of reason We just need to make better strategic use of a few teaspoons of it that we have

  2. Gary Beauregard Bottomley says:

    There is no easy way to digest the madness that is currently transpiring today This book or properly I should say series of essays since each chapter reads as if it was an independent essay on irrationality loosely tied together by various themes is the author’s process for coping with the madness outside of himself and also within himself the epilogue attest to that There is no doubt philosophy and its foundations are relevant for today and for understanding the disaster that is Donald Trump the author doesn’t hold back when it comes to the ultimate exemplar of irrationality and those who fall into his cultist nonsense This author knows how to connect how very smart philosophers from the past thought about thinking about thinking and in the end how rationality will always decay by its own immanent critiue of itself He starts his story by telling the reader that Jordan Peterson claims to be an heir of the enlightenment and how Steven Pinker could write a book with the word ‘Enlightenment’ in the title but have no appreciation whatsoever what it meant I truly despised that book and that was one of the myriad reasons I reacted so strongly against it when I read it He’ll invoke Adorno and Horkheimer authors of ‘Dialectics of Enlightenment’ to show how they Peterson and Pinker are not heirs of the enlightenment but only pretenders Moreover and this is only my opinion after I had read ‘Dialectics of Enlightenment’ which is antithetical to the principals of the enlightenment and is one of the founding documents of the Frankfurt School neo cons I felt the bilge of Peterson within that book and Pinker’s privileged non identity identity is the only identity that is not an identity nonsense Regardless of my feelings this author does a good job of putting swift nonsense to Peterson claiming to be an heir to any kind of rationality except for irrationality and to Pinker knowing beyond a tilde about the enlightenment A lot of the themes the author had did not really connect with me That’s okay I read to get a different perspective Sometimes he sounded a lot like the old man across the street who didn’t like the new fangled device called the internet which is probably made up of inter tubes and what not The author’s right hate and mimes he must have used that word a dozen times take our conversation down to the level of Trump sounding smart in 144 letters or less and therefore exciting the gullible enablers of irrationality But I think it’s not the internet that created the hate the crazy and the irrational nor was it Trump that created it the hate has always been there and they feed off of each other’s irrationality Logic reason and understanding are hard Hate is easy Irrationality needs feelings to feed it intuition to grasp it and belief without evidence in order to enable it Ignorance can only be defeated by knowledge and the internet is the world’s gateway for learning They say ‘love is all there is’ Bertrand Russell will say ‘love without knowledge is dangerous’ since for example during the Bubonic plague having everyone pray together in a church was based on love and lack of the knowledge of the danger of bringing people together in close uarters where a flea could feast easier and that made love without knowledge foolhardy The author points out that Trump has neither love nor knowledge giving us the worst of all possible scenarios I’ll even say it’s impossible for a ‘narcissist’ such as Trump to be capable of love since a narcissist is not capable of seeing the other as a human being because they don’t recognize themselves as a human being because their first order desires are all they have They never reflect on what their desires about their desires are they just act without reflectionThis book overall does not shy away from bringing up thinkers from either the recent past or the far away past and will tell you why they are still relevant today In the end as the book ‘Enigma of Reason’ makes clear and for which this author favorably cites and for which he mentions in detail that book will say that Reason is a label that we attach for our reasons in order to justify what we have already done or what we plan to do and that is why we think we are rational the essence of being human according to Aristotle while all along we can actually be acting irrationally As Kierkegaard said and who is mentioned freuently in this book ‘irony is jealous of authenticity’ that is to say we live in a paradox and we need to find our own meaning for ourselves the best way that we can in spite of the contradictions that ensnarl us

  3. Joseph says:

    Unfortunately this book could have used a narrow survey of how irrational we are in all aspects of our lives since history is so rich with examples The risk of having a philosopher provide a guided tour through our individual collective irrationality is using an academic approach that focuses exclusively on logic as a fundamental tool to propel the narrative This would engender mass defection from a general audience and gratefully Smith doesn't Although there are a lot of philosophers referenced it’s not densely written and thankfully there is not a lot of academic jargon The problem is with no limits to enforce a structured narrative the perspective is unfocused as it ranges throughout history without a clear authorial vision Here is an example found on page 186 “The mass slaughter of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda in 1994 was surely an outburst of irrationality; and irrational too is the everyday functioning of bureaucracy such as the notorious DMV that allows its agents to exercise their gentle sadism behind the safe cover of rules and of the way things are done and long have been done” Within the same paragraph the author also references the Second Amendment free speech activists and the Enlightenment Let’s ignore although it’s hard the profound insensitivity of using the genocide of a population in the same sentence as the bureaucratic inanities of a government office Waiting in line and following rules is of a lesser degree of irrationality than systematically erasing a population of people Although the rest of the book is not as egregious in its examples it’s a mess of unfocused observations that doesn’t really lead to a profound examination and understanding of how irrational we are A good portion of the contemporary references have of a political analysis behind them rather than examining how cultural neuroscience behavioral economics may explain our irrationality which might help us to better think about how biases contribute to irrational behaviors and hence improve our understanding and give us a potential approach to not only reduce our individual irrationality but help create structures that minimize the conseuences of large scale group thinking that can perpetuate mistaken beliefs that lead to harmful actions It therefore is disappointing to see a uite learned occasionally humorous and opinionated author miss the mark in trying to walk us through such an important topic

  4. LDM says:

    I wanted to like this book No I wanted to love this book I had read some of Smith’s other writing over the past year and when I heard he was publishing a book billed as “rich and ambitious” ranging across “philosophy politics and current events” I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it As Smith himself has made clear this is not a towering air tight philosophical treatise It is meant as a collection of essays loosely connected by their various explorations of the irrational in human life Unfortunately Smith proves himself less a modern Montaigne and a third rate hack columnist who uses lots of flashy displays of erudition that serve as shiny mood affiliative objectsSmith’s major thesis such as it is is that rationality and irrationality are inextricably linked and exist in an endless ouroboros of predominance in human affairs Fair enough But much in Smith’s treatment of the subject is self evident – and what isn’t self evident is utterly banal If one is interested in these topics one would do better to read Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg which succeeds where Smith does not by exploring the tensions between rationality and mysticism modernity and counter modernity without subjecting the reader to superficial random political excursus inscrutable social commentary and dissonant personal reflection Consider for example this positively baffling paragraph on page 172“Aggressive reason provokes violent reactions Herder is often described as a ‘soft nationalist’ defending German sensibility against French reason and articulating a view of the nation as the locus of community values and of the irreducible particularity of culture against the blinding glare of uniformity and indifference to community that seemed to radiate from the Enlightenment And recently we have seen the blinding glare of ObamaCare radiating from Washington DC and the Tea Party protesters who come together in sentimental community and lovingly shade each other from the light”Huh?This is not to say that some of Smith’s observations and conclusions are not interesting His discussion of pre modern philosophical conceptions of the rationality of the natural world for example was uite enlightening But often these nuggets seem as diamonds in the rough strewn along a rude path through a tenebrous – and terribly monotonous – forest He devotes much time in dissecting various pseudoscientific movements including anti vaxxers and “flat earthers” which I confess is the first time I have heard of the latter and I suspect exist only to troll Extremely Serious People like Smith who are perfectly primed to wax hysterical He devotes even time to denouncing Donald Trump because of course he does – just don’t expect to read anything you haven’t already read before on the subject ad nauseumBut okay reasonable pseudoscience and Donald Trump may seem like appropriate subjects in a book on irrationality But Smith gives exceedingly short shrift to an actual instantiation of irrationality that we are each of us exposed to every day dreams He spends a brief chapter on the topic for sure dutifully mentioning Freud and his ilk but leaves such fertile ground largely untilled And what’s with the bizarre fan fiction of a Jesuit missionary proselytizing to the Huron Indians? Yes things get weirdPerhaps I’m being uncharitable someone on whom a joke has been played and who just doesn’t “get it” Yet I cannot be charitable to a book that is itself deeply uncharitable and in dire need of ruthless editingFor example in a reply to a “bad” review of the book Smith derisively writes about its author that he is “the sort of person who is used to having an audience for which he has to explain and thinks it is normal to have to explain when the name of William S Burroughs comes up that we are talking about a ‘writer associated with the Beat Generation’ ” Yet Smith himself feels the need to explain who Cicero a “first century BCE Roman statesman and lawyer” and Jean Paul Sartre a “twentieth century French existential philosopher” were Cicero for Christ’s sake I humbly submit that Cicero and Sartre are well known even in our fragmented cultural consciousness than Burroughs As Nabokov whom I’m surprised Smith didn’t introduce as a “twentieth century Russian refugee with a strange love for butterflies” once put it albeit it in a different context and with different characters “the typesetter of the great Cicero is the godfather of the tiny Mr Burroughs” One suspects that Smith merely thinks it inexcusable to introduce Burroughs and not sacre bleu Cicero because Smith has a deep affection for the former and not the latter – though he masks that fact with emphatic hand waving Why do I think Smith doesn’t know much or care much about Cicero? Well consider this Smith twice has Cicero citing Plutarch's De Sollertia Animalium on pages 31 and 34To return again to Cicero the Roman author finds it fitting to cite Plutarch's description of 'the octopus who sits through the winter devouring himself' as a suitable metaphor for the self defeating activity of the logicians p 31And again Plutarch's complaint cited by Cicero is not unrelated to the common observation over the centuries p 34Smith's notes identify the Tusculan Disputations published around 45 BC as the provenance of Cicero's citation of Plutarch This gave me pause since I could not recall any mention of Plutarch or any octopus for that matter in this or any other work in Cicero's ouevre But of course I couldn't since as I confirmed with a simple Google search Plutarch wrote than 150 years after Cicero's death The ancients were many things but time travelers they were not Nor is this Smith’s only glaring error of fact Consider the following on page 144Much earlier in the third century CE the Christian apologist Tertullian had justified his commitment to the faith precisely in view of what he took to be its absurdity leaving us with the stunning motto credo uia absurdum 'I believe because it is absurd'Stunning because Tertullian never in fact said that What he actually said was certum est uia impossibile est it is certain because it is unfitting which scholars can tell you does not mean that Tertullian rejects reasoned argument to support his faith In fact google it the first hit will be a Cambridge University Press journal article fittingly titled The Enlightenment Invention of Tertullian's Credo documenting how Enlightenment philosophers distorted Tertullian's original wording and meaning to make him say the exact opposite of what he meant Reasoned argument indeed For someone like Smith who takes such a dim view of social media particularly its reliance on gotcha's and falsehoods masuerading as arguments that is truly an indefensible mistake Hilarious too because his mistake comes right before a section titled alternative facts and alternatives to facts Indeed Smith is a scholar on seventeenth century philosophy; perhaps he has spent too much time immersed in those whose life project was to discredit and discard any trappings of medievalist andor late antiue Christian thought and tradition Much of what we moderns believe about the Middle Ages is unfounded and fantastical largely as a result of Renaissance and Enlightenment scholarship Apparently their distortions like a virus continue to infect the work of those who really should know betterWhether these lazy misrepresentations affect the general thrust of his various theses is debatable Getting rid of the Tertullian citation does not I think weaken or change the argument of the relevant passage But it does display a carelessness and inattention strange for someone who seems to take pride in his work and in his arguments We should expect from scholarship and from our scholars even or especially in a non academic book of essays that are often little than extended blog posts Blog posts that seem to have been written as a cheap form of therapy for Smith himself as he tries to come to terms with the world Anyway enough of that If Smith couldn’t take the time to tighten his prose and fact check his arguments we should not be expected to spend much time remarking on it – or reading his book

  5. Rhys says:

    Breathless and bewilderingThere were moments in this book when the author settled in on an interesting narrative though overall it was never clear what was being said about the rational and what would be considered irrational Or at least it was never consistentAs an example we seem to bounce from a rational justification of human reason and human exceptionalism to a critiue of 'species exceptionalism' when it comes to his panning of Judith Butler And the cost of three pages of 'Anglerfish sexual dimorphism' seems to be a 'terrible exchange rate' for simply saying that most animals are born with certain parts For Butler to say there is no concrete sexed body without constructed human categories to interpret it is understandable and perhaps rational than rambling about Lamprologus callipterusThe author dismisses postmodernism as irrational though it seems to be a fair critiue of the loss of grand narratives in the age of consumerism and neo liberalism; he dismisses Badiou based on a lecture he remembers going to in 2015; he doesn't seem to like modern art; he sees communism as an irrational exuberance and left leaning bloggers as Maoist party poopers exercising a cultural revolution of prudishness He then shares this Or is it rather something that is of service only as a stereotype deployed at a great distance either in space or in time or perhaps as a conceit that one might use within a given culture by screening out everything that does not conform to it? In short as I read Irrationality I felt that the 'dialectic of the dark side of reason' was mostly in the author's head This is not to say that there were not some interesting points like The tables have turned and dramatically since the dawn of the twenty first century Today it is often the right that is engaged in reckless stunts while the left typically urges caution and hesitation and top down enforcement of this moral outlook p195 which begs further exploration And Smith's criticisms of social media as a frightening fount of irrationality are well argued And I even liked the exploration of Heidegger's authenticity of Being towards deathI think the book simply tried to pack too much in In that respect it was Zizek without the laugh track

  6. Dan Graser says:

    Many thinkers and pundits these days identify themselves as rational as if anyone would overtly identify otherwise and seek to take up the mantle of The Enlightenment even though when pressed most have little idea as to the historical meaning of that period in Western thought let alone the philosophical depth reuired to understand it As such they have notions of what it means to be rational or enlightened in a modern sense and assume no one will do their homework This assumption is apt in our current age of digital stupidity as the people are exposed to ideas the ridiculously stupid and irrational ideas they embrace as rational merely because they confirm their pre existing notions This work from Smith has a very noble goal that being to expose who often those with all of the best rational inclinations freuently engage in irrational and unenlightened practices the two fold result of which being either calamity for themselves and others as well as the realization that we are not rational creatures 100% of the time and the imposition of pre fabricated rational structures on our lives will never have a uniformly positive outcome He sums this up well at the close of the workThe thesis of this book that irrationality is as potentially harmful as it is humanly ineradicable and that efforts to eradicate it are themselves supremely irrational is far from new You did not need to hear it from me It has by now been perfectly obvious for at least a few millenia The dual case however against mythologizing the past and against delusions about our ability to impose a rational order on our future always benefits from being made afresh as evidently what has been obvious for a few millenia nonetheless keeps slipping back into that vast category of things we know but do not knowWhile there is much to enjoy here Smith's freuent purposeless tangents make for every uneven reading that strains the attention of the reader and the cogency of his subjects past the breaking point His chapter on the Enlightenment is very much the highlight for me as well as the discussion of the many sides of the Charlie Hebdo crisis But uite simply this would have benefited from a good deal editing However when he does levy criticism he smacks the nail firmly on the head when describing the puffed up nature of our current President's manner for instance St Paul wrote in the First Letter to the Corinthians that knowledge puffs up but love builds up Trump lacks both knowledge and love and what he is inflated with one suspects is something like that miasmatic air by which the bullfrog asserts its existence in the middle of the bog

  7. Mehrsa says:

    This is not an easy listen It's very dense and academic and the thesis wanders all over the place and it's hard to keep track of the main narrative However the premise of the book is fascinating Basically we praise the rationality of humans but what makes us human is our irrationality as we typically define such things The end of the book veers towards the political and how both sides of the aisle have irrational beliefs That was the weakest portion and it felt the least academic and supportable to me because it seemed to be just a rehashing of the common storylines you hear all the time

  8. Cezar says:

    Why Trumpism makes sense from a historical irrational perspective

  9. John says:

    Terrific examination of the many ways people find to forge oddball realities for themselves—often with characteristics that aren’t at all in their best interests His observation that in several ways Donald Trump is like Wavy Gravy than Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan has stuck with meThe reading is a little uiet for outdoor listening though

  10. Jerry Wall says:

    Irrationality in various manifestations and its utility or disutility in our livesIf Apple Facebook Google Twitter Instagram and Snapchat are gradually chipping away at our ab ility to control our own minds could there come a point I ask at which democracy no longer functions p 14Very few internet users are prepared to justify or are at all interested in justifying their political commitments by means of reasoned arguments p 17 neither or most politicians etc we can no longer pretend we were living in a deliberative democracy but we had now abandoned even the aspiration to this p 18 no longer listening to well reasoned arguments p 19Logic the science of reason p 27Once you've allowed even the tiniest untruth into your argument well from there as the song has it anything goes p 34And we a plagued by rampant confirmation bias the systematic error of noticing preferring and selecting new information that reinforces what we already believe p 66dreams If it means anything atall then the meaning comes only from the order we impose upon the dream after we wake p 98 astrology presented itself as something to believe something that genuinely helped to make sense of the world and of our place in it rather than making iut difficult to do so p 136Flat earth theory is a threat not primarily because if gets the physical world wrong but rather because it misrepresents the human social world p 150 since you have allowed falsehood into your argument you can say whatever you want p 164This is the very definition of illiberalism to believe that disagreeing with another person's theoretical commitments while affirming and defending their right to exist and to hold these commitments is insufficient p 220Disability is the way of all flesh p 225 jokes are like little morsels of condensed irrationalitychokengtitiktitikchokeng 229 humor is the highest expression of freedom and the thing most to be defended in society p 230 gelastics from the Greek gelos laughter p 231Pseudologues spin so many falsehoods about their own lives that they no longer seem cognitively able to separate truth from falsehood p 243 popular bit of folk wisdom that we ought to find a thing we love and let it kill us slowly p 273 only children and stunted adults believe that life itself improves with the acuisition of sweet morsels and delightful toys p 275Rather it globalization was driven in no small part by a search for luxury goods spices silk coffee tobacco sugar and many other commodities Europeans naturally did not know they needed until they knew they existed p 277 Everything about upscale restaurants is absurd p 281 recognizing that they are going to die and they conclude from this rightly or wrongly that they would do better to die for something Kieslowski announced he was going to do when he retired from filmmaking to sit in a dark room and smoke p every response to the specter of mortality can be criticized for its irrationality There is nothing to praise nothing to condemn nothing to criticize but it is all ridiculous ; if you just think about death p 283Thomas Browne Pseudodoxia epidemica of 1646 the epidemic of popular false beliefs of his revolutionary age p 288 paradox of the present age totality of human learning is accessible than even easily accessible with a special device we carry in our pockets nonetheless false beliefs are as epidemic as ever p 288in writing this book I closed my Facebook account a plague on humanity worse than any drug true self help is thoroughly working through everything that is good everything we love in what we also hate and wish to be free of all the delirium and delusion the enthusiasms excesses manias mythmaking rhapsodies stubbornness and self subversion that make human life for good or ill what it is p 289

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