New Philosopher

Changing minds

“Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.” Alvin Toffler

Jonathan Swift was one to choose his words carefully. In a letter from 1725 written to his good friend, the poet and satirist Alexander Pope, he contested the contemporary definition of humanity. “I have got materials toward a treatise, proving the falsity of that definition animal rationale,” he wrote. That common definition of humans being ‘rational animals’ was one that Swift found outrageously vain. Instead his treatise was to “show it should be only rationis capax”. That is, humans are “capable of reason”, although we typically choose not to employ it.

If we’re honest with ourselves, Swift was right. Indeed, one of the richest veins of recent scientific research has shown that the human animal is rarely rational, and rational discourse is

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