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Download Knowing and Acting: An Invitation to Philosophy by Stephen Edelston Toulmin PDF

By Stephen Edelston Toulmin

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From the psychological and sociological standpoints, those words may well seem epiphenomena; but when viewed from the extreme physiological point of view, the avowed "reasons" for our thoughts and actions must appear even more forcibly to be surface by-products of deeper neurological causes. Using arguments like these, the contemporary fatalist at­ tempts to get a triple armlock on us. As he moves from his­ torical and cultural, to psychological and biographical, to physiological factors and mechanisms, he places increasingly severe limits on our seeming capacity for rational, individual choice and belief, action and creativity.

In ways that mark them off from sticks and stones, germs and geraniums, and possibly also from dogs and dolphins, humans have the capacity to work problems out, to think ques­ tions through, to deliberate about their courses of action be­ forehand, and to explain the reasons for them afterwards. There are times, of course, when they fail to exercise this capacity— when they jump to conclusions, act unthinkingly, or let their 53 54 THE PHILOSOPHER AS GEOMETER feelings get the better of their judgments in ways that are also "only human".

And aU three classes of argument carry weight with us, only for so long as we remain "rational", in ways that the fatalist's own conclusions allegedly prove impossible! CLASS 3 (PHYSIOLOGICAL) In order to see exactly how the fatalist's reliance on the rationality of his own arguments undermines his attack on "rea­ soning" and "rationality", let us reverse the order of the arguments, and consider first how it affects the physiological arguments for fatalism. I recall hearing the relevant paradox stated in the mid 1960s, by Professor Charles Townes, the Nobel Prize winner and in­ ventor of the laser.

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