Forrest McDonald’s “On the Study of History” (February 1991) was stimulating. His quick survey of our nation’s ills was pinpoint bombing. I had trouble, however, digesting McDonald’s “the reason we cannot solve our social problems is precisely the reason we can put a man on the moon,” and his allegation that the scientific method “cannot take a broad view.” Right on the heels of these charges, McDonald declares that “the trouble with pragmatism is that it no longer works” and recommends that “before it is too late” we “cultivate instead a holistic view.”
The social, political, and environmental problems we face today appear insurmountable, but pragmatic minds are at this moment using reason to get to the nub of these problems and to generate solutions. If an approach is found to be too “narrow,” the true man of science will “broaden” his scope. This is elementary.
McDonald’s examples of our ability to escape the clutches of scientific thinking—when we select appropriate gifts for loved ones or when we supply “proper” answers to a college professor—are, in fact, examples of rudimentary rational thinking. Simple logic helps us decide what kind of gift would please a friend, and simple logic enables us to determine a professor’s bias, link good grades with parroting the “right” answers, and to thereby hoodwink the professor. It is illogical to assume, as McDonald does, that in these instances we perceive “with perceptual apparatuses not our own” and act “in accordance with the dictates of alien perceptual machinery.”
The storm flag should be hoisted whenever suggestions are made to dispense with reason. Reason is the one common language whereby all the diverse peoples of the world can carry on a meaningful dialogue. It can be demonstrated in Timbuktu as well as in Peoria that it’s not in man’s best interest to defecate upstream from where he drinks. Once we depart from the scientific method, all hope for harmony vanishes.