How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality

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University of Chicago Press, Nov 22, 2013 - History - 272 pages
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In the United States at the height of the Cold War, roughly between the end of World War II and the early 1980s, a new project of redefining rationality commanded the attention of sharp minds, powerful politicians, wealthy foundations, and top military brass. Its home was the human sciences—psychology, sociology, political science, and economics, among others—and its participants enlisted in an intellectual campaign to figure out what rationality should mean and how it could be deployed.             How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind brings to life the people—Herbert Simon, Oskar Morgenstern, Herman Kahn, Anatol Rapoport, Thomas Schelling, and many others—and places, including the RAND Corporation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the Cowles Commission for Research and Economics, and the Council on Foreign Relations, that played a key role in putting forth a “Cold War rationality.” Decision makers harnessed this picture of rationality—optimizing, formal, algorithmic, and mechanical—in their quest to understand phenomena as diverse as economic transactions, biological evolution, political elections, international relations, and military strategy. The authors chronicle and illuminate what it meant to be rational in the age of nuclear brinkmanship.

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About the author (2013)

Paul Erickson is assistant professor of history and science in society at Wesleyan University and lives in Middletown, CT. Judy L. Klein is professor of economics at Mary Baldwin College and lives in Staunton, VA.  Lorraine Daston is director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and visiting professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. She lives in Berlin, Germany. Rebecca Lemov is associate professor of the history of science at Harvard University and lives in Cambridge, MA. Thomas Sturm is a Ramón y Cajal Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and lives in Cerdanyola del Vallčs, Spain. Michael D. Gordin is professor of the history of science at Princeton University and lives in Princeton, NJ.

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