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Toward a Reasonable Society

Toward a Reasonable Society

Copyright Date: 1961
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    Toward a Reasonable Society
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    Those who despair of our age will find in this stimulating book heartening answers to their questions about the fate of Western civilization and indications of the course humanity should follow if it is to save itself and the world. The course is not new. According to Ayres, it is the same course that humanity has taken from the dawn of history, but with too many detours in pursuit of false values. It is the course that has brought us to the point of civilization where we now stand—the course of developing knowledge and expanding truth, of our increasing ability to exploit nature for our own welfare. From the earliest stick tool—through the invention of the wheel, the Industrial Revolution, and the marvelous scientific and technological developments of the space age—science and technology, knowledge and skill, have enabled humankind to create for itself an increasingly better life. But with this development has come a sense of conflict between our secular culture and our traditional values, a conflict requiring a reevaluation of values. This reevaluation is the subject of Ayres' book. His theme is that the abiding values are those relating to the common human experience shared by all peoples, those values deriving from the quest for knowledge, from the never-ending struggle to harness the forces of nature to human use. They are measured in terms of a standard of value that has the same meaning for all people. And they have their validity in the cause-and-effect relationship basic to all human reasoning and to the oneness and interrelatedness of all life. Toward a Reasonable Society is a defense of industrial culture. It is a creative work, drawing upon numerous areas of knowledge—ethics, sociology, economics, anthropology, history, philosophy, psychology, biology, music, the graphic arts, mathematics, the physical sciences—to show the uniformities and the unchangeables in the oneness of human life. It is an attack upon nostalgia and a defense of current arts, crafts, knowledge, wisdom, and individual character. It is an inspiring definition of freedom, equality, security, abundance, and other values of a democratic society. In being all these things it assumes a point of view that looks toward the future. And it is exciting reading. The author's closely reasoned discourse leads with inevitable progress from one chapter to the next, with something like the suspense of a detective story. Each chapter is an intellectual episode leaving the reader with an eagerness to see what the next development will be. The concreteness of the numerous examples enhances the clarity of the prose. The compelling note is optimism for the future in further development of the industrial society that has achieved the most successful way of life humankind has ever known.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-76965-6
    Subjects: Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. v-vi)
  3. Table of Contents (pp. vii-2)

      In Asense i am writing this book for my own satisfaction. But the concern which has prompted it is shared, in one way or another, by all thoughtful people. Is industrial society at a dead end, or rushing down a steep place into oblivion, as so many people seem to fear? Committed as we are to the life of reason, are we therefore, as both scientists and theologians seem to think, spiritually crippled? Is it true that the modern mind, nourished on science, is therefore spiritually sterile? Are all our efforts to improve our lot short-circuited by the impossibility of...


      Industrial society is the most successful way of life mankind has ever known. Quite literally, we have never “had it so good.” People eat better, sleep better, live in more comfortable dwellings, get around more and in far greater comfort, keep in better repair, and—notwithstanding all the manifold dangers of the industrial way of life—live longer than men have ever done before.

      Nor is ours a barren physical existence. People are better informed than ever before. Not only do they listen to radio and and watch television; they read more books, see more pictures, and hear more music...


      For several centuries Western civilization has been undergoing a process of secularization. As we have learned more and more about the world we live in, and have learned to do more and more with it, otherworldly considerations have dropped farther and farther into the background of our everyday life. But they have by no means disappeared. On the contrary, they still continue to supply the language and perhaps the inspiration of all our common purposes and higher aspirations, to which in turn our everyday activities are commonly thought to owe their meaning. Thus the Western peoples find themselves living in...


      Are values made known to us by our feelings? That values do evoke feelings goes without saying. It may even be true that evocation of feelings is a distinguishing characteristic of all values—that what we mean by values is, in significant part at least, the power certain experiences have to move us emotionally. But this is another matter. W e are emotional creatures, and as such we have the power to respond emotionally in a wide variety of ways to an infinite variety of situations. Because such emotional responses are indissociable from values of all kinds—even the most...


      With in the past two or three generations the whole universe of discourse of human affairs has undergone revolutionary change. In making such a sweeping statement I do not mean to suggest that we have cut ourselves off completely from the past. That has never happened. Even after the Copernican revolution the stars and planets were the same. Not only are they still in the same places as before; we still call them by the names they acquired in remote antiquity. Bodies were known to fall even before the law of falling bodies was established. Fire was known, and quite...


      Through out the foregoing chapters I have been concerned with the errors of the past. Thus rebuttal seems to have preceded constructive inquiry and exposition. But there is good reason for this. In the first place, the errors under consideration not only continue to prevail at the present time; they dominate the field. Furthermore, they are not vulgar prejudices. On the contrary, they are strictly intellectual errors into which the leading pioneers of earlier generations have been led by the circumstances of resolutely secular inquiry, circumstances by which it would have been virtually impossible for anyone not to have been...


      As i tried to point out in the preceding chapter, the symbolic process endows mankind with two sets of powers: the power of organizing facts and the power of creating fictions. These two sets of powers condition each other. It would be impossible for man to imagine fictions if he did not possess mastery over facts—the facts of which the fictions are imaginary projections. It would likewise be impossible for man to organize the facts of his experience except by use of symbols, which are themselves fictional, symbols the fictional character of which is the root-source of all fictions....


      Through out the ages wise men have puzzled over man’s moral nature. How does man know right from wrong? And why does he feel so strongly about it ? The tribal legends of every people provide answers to these questions, answers that are entirely satisfactory to those who believe the legends. But wise men have always entertained misgivings with regard to the literal verity of tribal legends, and their doubts left these questions up in the air. It was of course possible to suppose that man had somehow been endowed with moral sensibilities which other creatures lack; and despite its...


      During the past five centuries the secular trend of Western civilization has become increasingly pronounced and therefore increasingly evident. This is true of the process in both meanings of the wordsecular. The trend is one of extremely long range, and it is also one of steadily decreasing otherworldliness, or supernaturalism, and steadily increasing naturalism, or matter-offactness. Notwithstanding the persistence of ancient traditions and long-established institutions—a heritage of which, at least as scholars, we are more fully cognizant than any earlier community has been—Western civilization is now secular to a degree that would never before have been thought...

    • CHAPTER X THE UNITY OF VALUE (pp. 165-170)

      One of the most unfortunate consequences of twentiethcentury sophistry is the habit of thinking of value always in the plural. I call it a “habit” because that is all it is. No one has ever established, either by logical analysis of the nature of value or by the natural history of the origin of value in human experience, that particular values come into existence independently of each other and lead separate existences either in society or in the lives of individuals.

      Bad though the habit is, there is a reason for it. Those in whom the habit of pluralizing value...

    • CHAPTER XI FREEDOM (pp. 171-186)

      No value is closer to the heart of Western civilization than freedom. None is held more dear, and none is more truly characteristic of our way of life. It is therefore significant that no other value reflects the moral confusion of the twentieth century more fully or more vividly.

      The causes of this confusion lie deep in the roots of Western culture, as the preceding chapters have indicated. But they are manifest in the contrast between the simple, obvious, and primitive conception of freedom and the much more difficult, complex, and subtle conception which has been emerging gradually in the...

    • CHAPTER XII EQUALITY (pp. 187-206)

      Like FREEDOM, equality stands high among the values that are most prized by the Western peoples; and like freedom, however incomplete its realization, it is one of the distinctions of Western civilization. Equality, again like freedom, stems in much larger measure than is generally realized from the industrial revolution.

      Equality means the absence of artificial and arbitrary barriers. It does not, and of course cannot, mean the absence of individual differences, physical, mental, or even social. It is necessary to emphasize this point (which ought to be self-evident) because vastly increased knowledge of individual differences has seemed to convince some...

    • CHAPTER XIII SECURITY (pp. 207-228)

      Like freedom, security has a primitive meaning, and for obvious reasons. Until quite recently human life has been highly precarious, for communities as well as for individuals, so that experience of all other values has been conditioned by anxiety. Thus both for individuals and for communities, assurance of continued existence and continued enjoyment of the existing system of values has seemed to be one of the supreme values of life.

      From the earliest times mankind has sought relief from anxiety and reassurance against the manifold hazards of existence by appeal to supernatural Powers. This is the “quest for certainty” of...

    • CHAPTER XIV ABUNDANCE (pp. 229-246)

      That the industrial economy produces all kinds of goods and services in far greater profusion than mankind has ever known before is obvious and incontestable. Not only is abundance a fact; it is one of the most conspicuous facts of modern life. Moreover, in the apprehension of the community at large it is the proudest boast of Western civilization, and especially of the United States. The standard of living of the Western peoples is far higher than that of any other people, present or past, and that of the Unsited States is by far the highest. Poverty and want have...

    • CHAPTER XV EXCELLENCE (pp. 247-264)

      Has industrial society sacrificed quality for quantity? In view of the obvious facts it seems strange that such a question should ever have been raised, and strangest of all that it should continue to be raised even in the middle of the twentieth century. The development of all the arts and crafts throughout the ages has been a cumulative process. Each successive step has been taken solely because it represented an improvement on whatwas being done before or the achievement of something that could not have been done at all before. N o art and no knowledge has ever been...

    • CHAPTER XVI THE “MORAL” VALUES (pp. 265-270)

      The preceding chapters have been concerned with what might be called public values. In discussing them I have tried to keep three principal objects in view: (1) to show that all such values are closely interrelated and interdependent; (2) to show that such values derive their common meanings from what I have called, after Veblen, the life process of mankind, in consequence of which their meanings are the same for all peoples; and (3) to show that real values, which (in contrast to the fancies of particular tribal cultures) are common to all mankind, have been more fully realized by...


      Within the last few decades an extraordinary development has occurred in Western civilization, and especially in the United States. It has become common practice for people of all cultural levels to identify all they hold most dear as a “way of life.”

      In the United States, where this expression is in commonest use, it usually takes the form of “the American way of life”; and yet, notwithstanding the apparent egotism of that expression, it is never intended to imply exclusiveness. On the contrary, the presumption is that what we have others might have; and not only would they be better...

  9. INDEX (pp. 295-301)