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This article is taken from PN Review 7, Volume 5 Number 3, April - June 1979.

Bellerophon and Pegasus Vicki Hearne

MOST MEMBERS of the intellectual establishment today are deeply infected with the rationalist notions of human and animal motivation that have found their fullest expression in the works of people like B. F. Skinner, and in some linguistic philosophers. These notions have had both a liberating and a humanizing influence, but like all forms of skepticism, they have tended quickly to become forms of totalitarian 'semantic legislation'. For example, schoolchildren are told that the bush isn't 'really' green; that it is all colours but green, and that you aren't really 'seeing' a bush, anyway; that certain wave lengths of light stimulate remote cells in the back of your eyeball . . . and so on.

Like the philosophies that explore the problematic nature of what it means to say something about someone else's state of mind ('He is puzzled', or 'She is in pain') behaviourism has led us to a painful distrust of our own perceptions, and our ability to talk about them, with the result that the humanizing force of theories like Skinner's has given way to a mystifying, and therefore oppressive, force.

The notions I am talking about enabled John Hollander to write the extraordinarily warm and humanizing poem 'The Great Bear', and I recommend it to anyone who is as skeptical as I have been about the humanizing powers of dubiety. However, I am here concerned with one special and limited, yet very significant, consequence of these theories. It has to do ...


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