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Hardcover | Out of Print | 184 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | March 2012 | ISBN: 9780262017220
Paperback | $15.95 Trade | £13.95 | 184 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | February 2014 | ISBN: 9780262526050
eBook | $11.95 Trade | March 2012 | ISBN: 9780262301886
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In Praise of Reason

Why Rationality Matters for Democracy


Why does reason matter, if (as many people seem to think) in the end everything comes down to blind faith or gut instinct? Why not just go with what you believe even if it contradicts the evidence? Why bother with rational explanation when name-calling, manipulation, and force are so much more effective in our current cultural and political landscape? Michael Lynch’s In Praise of Reason offers a spirited defense of reason and rationality in an era of widespread skepticism—when, for example, people reject scientific evidence about such matters as evolution, climate change, and vaccines when it doesn’t jibe with their beliefs and opinions.

In recent years, skepticism about the practical value of reason has emerged even within the scientific academy. Many philosophers and psychologists claim that the reasons we give for our most deeply held views are often little more than rationalizations of our prior convictions. In Praise of Reason gives us a counterargument. Although skeptical questions about reason have a deep and interesting history, they can be answered. In particular, appeals to scientific principles of rationality are part of the essential common currency of any civil democratic society. The idea that everything is arbitrary—that reason has no more weight than blind faith—undermines a key principle of a civil society: that we owe our fellow citizens explanations for what we do. Reason matters—not just for the noble ideal of truth, but for the everyday world in which we live.

About the Author

Michael P. Lynch is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut and the author of Truth in Context: An Essay on Pluralism and Objectivity and True to Life: Why Truth Matters, both published by the MIT Press.

Table of Contents

  • In Praise of Reason
  • In Praise of Reason
  • Michael P. Lynch
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • ©
  • 2012
  • Michael P. Lynch
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • MIT Press books may be purchased at special quantity discounts for business or sales promotional use. For information, please email special or write to Special Sales Department, The MIT Press, 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142.
  • This book was set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Lynch, Michael P. (Michael Patrick), 1966–.
  • In praise of reason / Michael P. Lynch.
  •  p. cm.
  • Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01722-0 (hardcover : alk. paper)
  • 1. Reason. 2. Reasoning. 3. Rationalism. I. Title.
  • B833.L96 2012
  • 128'.33—dc23
  • 2011038298
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • For Patty
  • Contents
  • Preface ix
  • 1 Hope and Reason 1
  • 2 Neither Slave nor Master: Reason and Emotion 11
  • 3 “Nothing but Dreams and Smoke” 41
  • 4 Reasons End: Tradition and Common Sense 61
  • 5 The “Sacred Tradition of Humanity” 79
  • 6 Truth and the Pathos of Distance 119
  • Conclusion 137
  • Notes 141
  • Index 163


In Praise of Reason offers a very thoughtful, balanced, and persuasive defence of the value of using reason as the basis for collective decision making—it is an argument that scpetics and defenders alike should read.”—Political Studies Review
“Writing in a cogent, readable style, Lynch shows that reason is so intimately bound up with our emotions that it touches nearly every aspect of human consciousness.”—Review of Metaphysics
“Smart and innovative...Lynch writes a strong and easily accessible response to skepticism about reason and scientific inquiry...I highly recommend.”—Essays in Philosophy
“This fun little book...shines with interest. Like a gifted interlocutor it engages and excites its readers, always drawing them into dialogue (if not always convincing them), and always leaves them better off for it.”—Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews


“Some psychologists and philosophers have played down the scope of reason in our lives. Michael Lynch has done a splendid job of explaining what reason is, and why there is no good excuse for abandoning the Enlightenment’s best idea: that we share a common currency of reason with our fellow human beings. What’s striking about the book is the light touch with which the author handles profound arguments.”
Anthony Gottlieb, author of The Dream of Reason
“Objective reason stands to reason, and is to be followed for that reason. How can this be so and what are the implications? The extensive answer in this book combines philosophical depth with historical and thematic breadth. It attains rigor without jargon, clarity with concision. It makes its case against currents of relativism in philosophical thought, and against currents of dogmatic conservatism in political thought. This needs to be done again and again, and Michael Lynch does it very well.”
Ernest Sosa, Board of Governors Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University


Honorable Mention, 2012 American Publishers Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE Award) in Philosophy, presented by the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers

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