Reason's Grief

An Essay on Tragedy and Value

Reason's Grief

Reason's Grief takes W. B. Yeats's comment that we begin to live only when we have conceived life as tragedy as a call for a tragic ethics, something the modern West has yet to produce. Harris argues that we must turn away from religious understandings of tragedy and the human condition and realize that our species will occupy a very brief period of history, at some point to disappear without a trace. We must accept an ethical perspective that avoids pernicious fantasies about ultimate redemption but that sees tragic loss as a permanent and pervasive aspect of our daily lives, yet finds a way to think, feel and act with both passion and hope. Reason's Grief takes us back through the history of our thinking about value to find our way. The call is for nothing less than a paradigm shift for understanding both tragedy and ethics.


"Harris is not nihilistic. He vociferously argues that tragic pluralism leads away from nihilism, which he describes as 'pseudo-intellectual, a theory of value for the emotionally vacuous' (p. 85). It is statements like these that make Harris difficult to ignore. He scrupulously avoids philosophical extremes and often seems at odds with any type of intellectual, religious, or cultural certitude. The boldness of his critique is shot through with an earnest conviction that increasing out tragic sense will amplify our passion for life." - Earl D. Bland, PsycCritiques