Monday, July 28, 2008

Unreasonable reasoning

Via the Women's Bioethics Blog, a series of special essays in the New Scientist covers 7 reasons why Reason is not enough (unfortunately the full series requires a subscription).

This tired chestnut? Define Reason narrowly enough, and of course it alone cannot solve problems of politics or engineering! But consider the alternatives on their own--emotion, tradition, hearsay, trial-and-error--and we come out even worse.

Yes, some say were were never modern, but I'll stand for the Enlightenment.

Do please consider....

Anti-Reason Reason #1:
"Reason stands against values and morals"
And thank goodness for that! How many brutal traditions have been used to dehumanize women and others? Hurrah for the power of moral reason and a universal sense of humanity.

Anti-Reason Reason #2:
"No one actually uses reason: If we had to think logically about everything we did, we’d never do anything at all."
What is meant is that "no one uses formal logic alone in solving real-world problems with complex contexts." But this is something we've known for just a little while--well, decades, at least. Thank you Rudolf Carnap!

Anti-Reason Reason #3:
"I hear 'reason,' I see lies: Science is routinely co-opted by governments and corporations to subvert people’s ability to make their own decisions."
This is a reference to pseudo-science's kissing cousin, pseudo-reason--including chart junk and all of its allies. Not reason itself.

Anti-Reason Reason #4:
"Reason excludes creativity and intuition."
Another narrow view. See #2 above. Deference to experience (sometimes known as 'intuition') is, again, dictated by reason. How else could we judge our experience and the experience of others?

Anti-Reason Reason #5:
"Whose reason is it anyway?: Real people don’t live their lives according to cold rationality."
This essay is from a bioethicist, and, I will admit, this is the challenge I am most likely to trip on. Indeed, the author writes:
Feminist theorists, for example, argue that the Enlightenment's focus on the individual, on rights, on reason, ignores the complicated and subtle web of networks that we are part of: the interdependencies and the relationships. For them, it's not just about individual choice, but about the context in which we choose.
Still, I would say that we can use reason to understand gaps in reasonability. Women have no doubt been left out of knowledge networks, and this is the observation that the literature on standpoint and situated knowledge responds to. Still, I hold that the problem is not with the theory or tools of reason but with the fairness with how they are distributed.

Anti-Reason Reason #6:
"Reason destroys itself: Even in formal mathematics, reason breaks its own rules"
Roger Penrose's supposed proof is none other than Hume's Problem of Induction. How do we know that reason is successful? How do we know that 2 + 2 = 4? The only way we can judge is by Reason's own lights, and perhaps (a little Cartesian flair, now...) we've always been deceived. Yes, without a benevolent God to rescue us from paradox, we are left with nothing but doubt.
This is a fun game for philosophers to play, I suppose, but a dishonest one assuming they've read Hume themselves. A naturalist's reason is not at odds with experience, and it is experience that drives us forward and allows us to live our lives, not Reason alone.

Anti-Reason Reason #7:
"Reason is just another faith."
But we know that Mary Midgley would not give up reason in favor of faith, would she? And indeed she does not: this is an essay against scientism.

Here she wraps it up for us:
"...in fact it is not clear that thought could go on at all in such a rarefied vacuum. In order to make actual decisions we need serious standards of what is or is not satisfactory. Hume's mistake lay in defining reason far too narrowly, as mere logic. This splits it off entirely from the rest of our thinking."

1 comment:

Khadimir said...

Wha, no mention of wisdom in philosophy?