06 February 2020, The Tablet

Apes not angels


The Truth About Denial: Bias and Self-­Deception in Science, Politics and Religion
(Oxford University Press, 335 PP, £16.99)
Tablet bookshop price £15.29 • Tel 020 7799 4064

For millennia, we prided ourselves on our distinctive faculty of reason. Impartial, transcendent, it made us “kin” to the perfect, eternal Forms, according to Plato, and (for Christians) only “a little lower than the angels” in the Great Chain of Being. But in the eighteenth century, just as reason was at its most lauded, invoked to trample tradition and dogma, it began to be dethroned. Reason, said the Enlightenment thinker David Hume, “is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions”. “Inert” unless fuelled by emotion, its proper role lies in discerning the efficient means to some desired end. Still more suspect in the nineteenth ­century, reasoning was diagnosed by Schopenhauer and Freud as our skill in whitewashing the base motives that actually drive us.

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