• Introduction to Reason and Argument

    10 | CCN: 77824

    Modern Reason

    Instructor: David Bates

    Date / Time: TuTh 2-330P, 10 EVANS

    4 Units

    Image of M. D. Van Wedeen, Martinos Center and Dept. of Radiology/Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard U. Medical School

    Human beings have often been defined by their capacity for reason. But what do we really mean by this word? Are there different kinds of reason? Do people reason differently depending on their historical or cultural context? This course will explore the history and theory of modern reason since the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century. We will start with some contemporary accounts of thinking that will set the stage for a critical evaluation of rational cognition. We will then trace a history of reason beginning with the work of Descartes, looking at how human reason was defined in the period of scientific revolution with respect to new ideas about machines and animal bodies. We will then look at reason from a number of different perspectives. We will study, for example, Rousseau’s Enlightenment text on the human being in the state of nature; the “detective” as a figure of reason in the 19th century; psychological theories of reason; technological supports for reason; artificial intelligence; and the possibility of “unconscious” reasoning. Our goal will be to think carefully about how higher thinking has been conceptualized and for what end – a key question, especially in the age of digital technology, will be what makes human reasoning distinctly human. Can a machine or a computer really exhibit human rationality? For that matter, can animals reason?

    Readings will range from the 17th to the 21st century, and will include literature, philosophy, cognitive science, computer science, and anthropology. Lectures will be informal and will encourage student interaction.

    Regular short writing assignments will be the main requirement of the course. There will also be a final exam.

    Required texts on order at the Bookstore: Descartes, Discourse on Method, Hackett; Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, Penguin