Stephen Toulmin (1922–2009) was a British philosopher. First outlined in The Uses of Argument, his model for analyzing arguments has had a lasting influence on fields as diverse as law, computer science and communications theory. Toulmin’s other works include The Abuse of Casuistry: A History of Moral Reasoning and Return to Reason.

A Question of Character

The transformations in theoretical physics during the twentieth century have two main lines, each with a key term, “relativity” and “quantum theory.” Both sets of changes were responses to problems in the natural philosophy passed down from Isaac Newton to the scientists of the 1890s—the presuppositions underlying the body of …

The Conscientious Spy

In America these days, idealism is out of fashion, even in bad taste. Men of principle make us uncomfortable. Their enthusiasm is suspect; their refusal to compromise looks at worst unscrupulous, at best naive. Ours is less a scoundrel time, as Lillian Hellman called the McCarthy years, than a time …

The Evolution of Margaret Mead

Is anthropology an art or a science? Eighteenth-century anthropologists studied the physical differences between all the races of man in the spirit of Linnaeus, so linking their subject with biology. A century later, the focus of anthropology shifted to society. It became the avocation of British colonial officers and Indian …

Fall of a Genius

Cambridge University has always been hospitable to powerful but eccentric intellects. Again and again, solitary Cambridge thinkers have conceived, and given clear definitions to, the new ideas of later generations. One may think of young Isaac Newton, banished home to Lincolnshire in the 1660s to sit out the Great Plague; …

The Charm of the Scout

In the literature and movies of the American Frontier the scout is usually depicted as a roughly clad eccentric who leaves the safety of the settlement and reappears unpredictably, bringing a mixture of firsthand reports, rumors, and warnings about the wilderness ahead—together with a tantalizing collection of plant specimens, animal …

The Mozart of Psychology

For forty years or more after the French Revolution, there was a breakdown of communications between physiologists working in France and their medical and scientific colleagues in Britain. This division was partly due to the fit of patriotism that engulfed the English during the Napoleonic Wars. But it was aggravated …

Back to Nature

The intellectual landmines laid for us by Charles Darwin more than a century ago continue to explode. As each cloud of dust settles back around us, we begin to see a little more clearly the ways in which the history of humanity interlocks with and reflects the continued presence of …

A Biology of Russian Dolls

After a century of tissue rejection, the grafting of Darwinian evolution theory into the body of French thought is at last proceeding with all deliberate speed. One says “deliberate” because even now very few true evolutionary biologists are to be found in either the universities or the medical schools of …

French Toast

The rhetorical, disputatious, ideological cultural life in France (as Mary McCarthy recently reminded us) obeys different rules from those in les pays anglophones. To Jean-François Revel, exaggeration can even become “an artistic form” in itself; yet this fact is concealed by the belief that French is the supremely logical language.

The Book of Arthur

What do we demand of Science? Vitamin-reinforced bread and astronautical circuses; Genesis according to Hoyle and the Revelations of Teilhard the Divine; piecemeal, tentative theories about those aspects of nature that we can now bring into focus; or a bit of all three? That question must not be answered in …

Progressive Man

The intellectuals of Ireland have done as much as anyone in the last one hundred years to keep the English-speaking world alive and awake. Throughout the whole Northcote-Trevelyan era, when England was siphoning off many of her most fertile and flexible minds into the Higher Civil Service, the Irish were …

The Physicist as Philosopher

One of the minor crosses that Albert Einstein bore through the last thirty years of his life was the way in which people of all kinds and backgrounds turned to him for pronouncements: pronouncements about democracy and liberty, about aesthetics and free love—above all, about philosophy. Just because of the …

The Age of Biology

These days, DNA and RNA are news. The fame of these “nucleic acids”—so significant for contemporary genetics—is a curious fact, and one that takes some explaining; but it should not (I believe) be considered in isolation. For, if we look back over the last ten or fifteen years, we can …

The Importance of Norbert Wiener

When Norbert Wiener died a few months ago, one of the most original and significant—yet idiosyncratic—of contemporary scientists disappeared from the intellectual scene. He was entitled to go happy. He had lived fully and stylishly, with a flair not often found in the academic cloister. (But then M.I.T., on which …

Relativity Since Einstein

Relativity-theory has always been a peculiarly philosophical branch of science: Einstein recognized a particular debt to Hume and Mach and current debates about the Rip-van-Winkle paradox are evidence that it is so still. The reasons are easily seen. Other scientists frame novel concepts to match newly-discovered facts, but the relativity-physicist …