Dan's Philosophy Picks - Stop Being Reasonable by Eleanor Gordon-Smith


Since our last few philosophy picks have showcased the views of long-dead, beardy white guys (not exactly an under-represented demographic within philosophy), let's reverse this trend by looking at a much more recent publication, 'Stop Being Reasonable', by the very un-dead, and un-beardy (though still white) philosopher Eleanor Gordon-Smith.
The first thing to note about the book is that it ticks several boxes for a contemporary pop-philosophy/self-help hit straight out of the gate: 1) Intriguingly counter-intuitive title? Check. 2) Garishly-coloured cover? Check. Really, all that's missing is a prominently placed swear word in the title and we would have been dealing with a sure-fire hit. As it stands, we have something far more interesting; namely, a critical reflection on the role of rational argument in our lives. As a former debating champion, Gordon-Smith found herself compelled to reflect on these matters when it became clear that the techniques of rational persuasion that proved so successful in the structured world of debating were far less so when put into use in real world situations. Why, Gordon-Smith asks, is it so hard to convince men who cat-call in public that what they are doing is wrong? How would you respond (in middle age) to the revelation that you were adopted? When the facts change must our feelings change accordingly? What possible evidence could bring us to question our most deeply held views? Gordon-Smith examines these and other questions with her insightful (and thoroughly entertaining) treatments of real life examples, interspersed with moments of sober philosophical reflections about the role played by emotions in our practices of decision-making and opinion-forming. Her conclusions, though perhaps not entirely surprising, amount to a timely criticism of the level to which public debate has lately sunk. More and more it seems, people on different sides of the political and moral divide are unable or unwilling to engage each other. To make things worse, the pervasive nature of social media means that we are exposed only to views that serve to confirm our own.What is required, according to Gordon-Smith, is not so much that we stop being reasonable, but that we enlarge (and thereby complicate) our conception of what reasonbleness is, and what it requires.