A common perception of modern liberal societies holds that it is possible to bring about social change through rational knowledge-knowledge of ourselves, the conditions we live in, and the laws and principles governing people and society. As attractive as such a view may be, hi its scope and simplicity it is totally at odds with some of the most significant conceptions of our age in mathematical logic, science, history, and anthropology. Godel and Heisenberg, for example, have shown that no complex system is completely knowable. In this thought-provoking volume, Eisenberg challenges the naive belief that we can control our destinies through rational planning, policymaking, and programming and questions whether such control is possible and even desirable.
Eisenberg examines the weaknesses and inconsistencies of the rationalist position in three key areas: moral education, social problem solving, and penal reform. Through lucid theoretical analysis and his own extensive experience in these areas, he demonstrates that the outcomes of rationally conceived programs are usually at odds with the intended result. Eisenberg traces this failure to an intrinsic logical incompatibility between what reason tries to do and what it can do. Rational method is premised on the possibility of conceiving and correlating all operative factors in a given process. However, all such factors cannot be taken into account. Using a social variation of the "principle of indeterminacy," the author notes that reason cannot take itself into account any more than the eye can see itself seeing or the hand can grasp itself grasping. Similarly, reason cannot control how institutional structure affects social behavior, nor how legal language determines social reality.
Eisenberg locates an intrinsic indeterminacy in society that precludes total or even substantial understanding and control of our destinies. Breakdowns hi the legal system, education, and social relationships appear to be worsening, yet self-assured experts, saddled with an outmoded cast of mind, continue to employ the same futile methods that have failed repeatedly. Admirably clear in presentation and distinguished by a deep awareness of human complexity, The Limits of Reason will be of interest to legal theorists and historians, educators, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, and political scientists. Above all, the volume shows that intuition, common sense, and flexibility are hallmarks of a mature theory of knowledge.