Uneasy Relations: Reason in Literature & Science from Aristotle to Darwin & Blake

Uneasy Relations: Reason in Literature & Science from Aristotle to Darwin & Blake

Uneasy Relations: Reason in Literature & Science from Aristotle to Darwin & Blake

Uneasy Relations: Reason in Literature & Science from Aristotle to Darwin & Blake

Synopsis

Since antiquity, perceptive thinkers in western culture have maintained that literature has its own rationality, a rationality as valid in its own domain as the reasoning of theoretical and empirical science. The dismissal of literature’s rationality in our own scientific era has wreaked havoc in the philosophy of education, sowed discord in religion, and led poets like William Blake to warn of our diminished humanity. And yet, in spite of their uneasy relations, there is a mutuality between literature and science. Charles Darwin’s reasoning through probabilities to reach his theory of evolution engages the same pattern of reasoning as the literary reasoning of rhetoric in Cicero’s deliberations on civic matters or John Henry Newman’s preaching at Oxford on matters of religious belief.

Excerpt

There is a mutuality between the kind of reasoning exercised in literature and the reasoning of science. Both empirical science and theoretical science have their origins in the same kind of reasoning exercised in literature. The human truths of literature are clarified and deepened through the kind of reason exercised in theoretical science. However, in spite of the mutuality of these two different kinds of thought, their relations have often been unacknowledged or strained because of the tendency of science to assert a hegemony over thought. Great arbiters of method who have considered these uneasy relations have taken as a fundamental premiss that different kinds of objects are known through different pathways of the mind. Empirical induction, intuition, theoretical reasoning, and the rationality exercised in literature serve different tasks. To expect one to do the work of another is like using the sense of smell where the sense of touch is required. The method of empirical sense observation and its conclusions will be as ineffectual in the invisible realms of spirit and the secret movements of the human heart as literature’s narrative wisdom applied to the practical, material purposes of modern science. However, although all operations of the mind are important in their own domains, they may also fade or atrophy from want of exercise, just as we lose the limberness of parts of our body from lack of use. In our own era, the tyranny exercised by the method of empirical science and a philosophy of mind that dismisses the legitimacy of other modes of reasoning have led to an increasing atrophy of equally honourable modes of thought and an eclipse of the large domains where they alone shed light. The modern suspicion of both theoretical reasoning and the rationality exercised in literature has wreaked havoc in education, sewed discord in religion, and diminished our humanity in proportion to its closing of the mind. Nowhere is our intellectual one-sidedness more apparent than in the elemental failure of our systems of education which mirror the intellectual imbalance of the age.

Our problem is not new. Because there is a tendency in any age for a single method to dominate, we can understand our own intellectual . . .

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