Outside the community of analytic philosophers (and occasionally, subtly, within it) few figures are regarded with quite the mixture of coolness and condescension accorded to the thoroughly rational man. Robert Musil wrote of the wife of a civil servant that 'what she called "soul" was nothing but a small capital of capacity for love that she had possessed at the time of her marriage. Permanent Secretary Tuzzi was not the right stock to invest it in ... apart from the period of honeymoon caresses, Permanent Secretary Tuzzi had always been a utilitarian and a rationalist, who never lost his equilibrium.' Rationality, we are invited to conclude, may be good for you in doses but can wither the spirit; beyond a certain point its study becomes the province of moral pathology. It has not always been thought so, but there would be few dissenters nowadays. So when David Pears writes of his book Motivated Irrationality that 'Western philosophy has always puffed the pretensions of reason, which, therefore, can do with a certain amount of deflation,' one has a sense of relief that a philosophically neglected subject is at last being accorded serious treatment. But it mingles with curiosity as to whether his iconoclasm will be radical enough to shock any but the most austere professionals. David Pears writes with an abstract analytical rigour that is an unexpected vehicle for his anti-rational ambitions. As with every poacher-turned-gamekeeper (or is it vice versa?) his qualifications for the job could not be better - but one wonders how far his heart is in it.
LRB 20 September 1984 | PDF Download