Just finished Stephen Toulmin’s remarkable book Return to Reason.

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In it, he argues for a philosophy of balance between theory and observation, a balance he says existed until the mid-17th century, when rationalism began to hold sway. He makes a persuasive case with examples from all the disciplines, including music. Example, talking about early twentieth century V
ienna:

…artists and scientists acted like bicyclists: they pedaled with confidence just so long as no one asked how they did it; but once they were asked how they avoided upsetting the machine, they lost their balance. Methods of representation and communication that had served well previously were challenged: more self-conscious techniques were needed, to avoid assumptions that were seemingly taken for granted in earlier language and literature, the fine arts and the sciences.

Wonderful observations, metaphors and turns of phrase abound. Gave me much to chew on in my own work.

Also reminded me of a great line from Joe Orton’s play What the Butler Saw: “You can’t be a rationalist in an irrational world. It just isn’t rational.”



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