Archive for February, 2013

What I Do Believe (1/3): Reason

Posted in I do believe on February 2, 2013 by Patrick

I believe in reason.

In saying that, of course, I’ve just undermined the whole name of the blog as well as the title of my first book.  But I’m an uneasy postmodernist, and we’ll get to that later.

What does it mean to say that I “believe” in “reason?”  I’ve talked about what I mean by belief in my last post, but what I mean by reason is a little harder to pin down.  Part of it is just garden variety “critical thinking” — take nothing for granted, examine warrants, look at implications, always question.  But as I’ve pointed out before, critical thinking is not value-neutral.  It comes with its own ontology, and a lot of people who wave the flag of critical thinking are not doing what I would call reasoning.

I take my model for reason from Socrates, who was willing to question everyone about everything.  He often uncovered common knowledge was, at its core, hollow and meaningless.  He often left people in a state of “aporeia,” a Greek word with no clear English equivalent.  I like “perplexity,” as it gets some of that stunned lack of resources implied by the original.  Socrates yanked the supports of preconception out from under people, and left them without support.

I think this state of aporeia is a valuable one, and the foundation of knowledge.  The foundation of true reason is a sense that we are without support, swimming in a sea of perplexity without knowing whether or not there’s a ground beneath us.  From that we can start to build real knowledge, by not being those who, as Socrates says, “not knowing anything, pretend to know.”

I also, then, believe in the limits of reason.  The universe is rational, I believe, but it’s also arational (not irrational, however).  It works by the logic of cause and effect and also the logic of metaphor.  It is both material and spiritual, and each has its own laws of reason.