The Retreat From Reason

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Professor Lancelot Hogben
Professor Lancelot Hogben (1895 – 1975)
Sir Julian Huxley
Sir Julian Huxley (1887 – 1975)
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at Conway Hall 20 May 1936. Chaired by Sir Julian Huxley and presented by Professor Lancelot Hogben.

Democracy is in decline because modern intellectual leaders and administrators have insufficient knowledge of science, while scientists have an insufficient sense of social responsibility. These inadequacies are due to faults in the education system – faults which are producing a general retreat from reason. Only through an education system which better integrates the humanities and the sciences can rationalism regain status and respect, and only then can rationalism lead to constructive action.
Just as in scientific education, pure logic should never predominate over empirical experience and practical considerations, so in humanistic education, ability merely to argue and express ideas should never predominate over ability to act.

One aspect of the retreat from reason is that the shortcomings in the pre-scientific liberal doctrine of egalitarianism have been seized upon by conservatives as the basis for a reactionary doctrine which falsely claims to be scientific. A genuinely scientific study of human nature must examine the factors which condition human behaviour. We must know how these factors operate in order to achieve human wellbeing. This scientific approach, aiming as it does to improve the human condition by the gradualist methods of argument, education, experiment and research, is at variance with the Marxist view that progress can only be achieved through violence and class war.

Scientific knowledge of what is biologically and psychologically beneficial should guide people in their choices of life-style. Also, these choices should be about meeting collective species needs. The latter are more likely to be satisfied in a scientifically- based rural economy than in an urban one. A social movement to attain these changes would consist of all progressive elements in society, including these among the salaried classes, and would discard the outmoded ‘class war’ mentality. This movement would be led by people who could inter-relate social affairs and science. They would be actuated by the spirit of scientific humanism, which emphasises the practical value of knowledge.

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