Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of ‘touching’ a man’s heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it… G. K. Chesterton


Writing about Tolstoy in 1903 Chesterton may have isolated the difference between the merely intelligent – however intelligent [or well credentialed which is something entirely different] they may proclaimed by themselves or their adherents – and the wise. The truth is that Tolstoy, with his immense genius, with his colossal faith, with his vast fearlessness and vast knowledge of life, is deficient in one faculty and one faculty alone. He is not a mystic; and therefore he has a tendency to go mad. Men talk of the extravagances and frenzies that have been produced by mysticism; they are a mere drop in the bucket. In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticism has kept men sane. The thing that has driven them mad was logic. …The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes of the convent and the pirate-galley, the night-club and the lethal chamber, has been mysticism — the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem.

And by mysticism we are not talking about embracing the irrational – all the way from the belief that we slipped out of the ooze and are destined to evolve into some sort of superlative creature that will have dominion over the farthest galaxies to the belief that some sort of superlative creatures from the farthest galaxies catapulted some flotsam or jetsam onto our tiny planet and we are the result of their largess or carelessness.  Finally neither this nor the pseudoscience promoted by Wilson, a true heir of the enlightenment, recognizes the reality that both the beginning and end of knowledge requires belief. We are blessed in being able to substantiate our belief by observation of the natural order and by the observation of our own behavior and twice blessed in the regulation of that behavior to our own highest and best ends. Put very simply it is easy to have a history of philosophy but it is not possible to have a philosophy of history – most recently Marxism attempted the latter and it has not worked out well!

Consilience: the unity of knowledge New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1998 Edward O. Wilson Philosophy, Order (Philosophy)Philosophy and science Hardcover. 332 p.: ill.; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 299-319) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In this book, the American biologist Edward O. Wilson argues for the fundamental unity of all knowledge and the need to search for consilience – the proof that everything in our world is organized in terms of a small number of fundamental natural laws that comprise the principles underlying every branch of learning.

Professor Wilson, the pioneer of sociobiology and biodiversity, now once again breaks out of the conventions of current thinking. He shows how and why our explosive rise in intellectual mastery of the truths of our universe has its roots in the ancient Greek concept of an intrinsic orderliness that governs our cosmos and the human species – a vision that found its apogee in the Age of Enlightenment, then gradually was lost in the increasing fragmentation and specialization of knowledge in the last two centuries.

Drawing on the physical sciences and biology, anthropology, psychology, religion, philosophy, and the arts, Professor Wilson shows why the goals of the original Enlightenment are surging back to life, why they are reappearing on the very frontiers of science and humanistic scholarship, and how they are beginning to sketch themselves as the blueprint of our world as it most profoundly, elegantly, and excitingly is.

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