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Reason is a term used in philosophy and other human sciences to refer to the higher cognitive faculties of the human mind. It describes a type of thought or aspect of thought, especially abstract thought, and the ability to think abstractly, which is felt to be especially human. The concept of reason is connected to language, as reflected in the meanings of the Greek word "logos", later to be translated by Latin "ratio" and then French "raison", from which the English word. Reason is thus a very important word in western intellectual history and shares much of its heritage with the now seperate words logic and rationality.
Reason and logicEdit
There is much disagreement between philosophical schools about the nature and function of reason. The debate about the relationship of reason to logic extends back to the time of Plato and Aristotle. Plato made a distinction between reason and logic, whereas for Aristotle and his followers, the terms were essentially synonymous (see Reasoning.) The debate between these two viewpoints has continued down through the ages. Heinrich Heine, in On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, wrote: "Plato and Aristotle! These are not merely two systems, but rather two types of human nature, that stand, since time immemorial, in hostile opposition. Across the entire middle ages, to the greatest degree, and up to the present day, this battle was waged, and this battle is the essential content of Christian church history. Plato and Aristotle are always the issue, though other names may be used."
The conflict between the Platonists and the Aristoteleans centers around the question of how to search for truth; the Platonists insist that it is found in the world of ideas, while the Aristoteleans insist that it must be deduced or induced from the experience of the senses (the Renaissance painter Raphael depicted this conflict in his painting, The School of Athens.) For the Platonists, reason is the "the faculty of first truths" (see Platonic realism.) In the Aristotelean or neo-Aristotelean camp, reason is narrowly defined as the faculty or process of drawing logical inferences; such types of reasoning have traditionally been classified as either deductive reasoning, meaning "from the general to the particular", or inductive reasoning, meaning "from the particular to the general" (in the 19th century, Charles Peirce, an American philosopher, named a third classification related to the second, abductive reasoning, by which he meant to include guessing or hypothesising. In modern usage, "inductive reasoning" sometimes includes almost all non-deductive reasoning, including what Peirce would call "abductive". See also logic, term logic.)
These two conflicting conceptions of reason will be addressed in more detail below (see Reason vs. Logic and Reason as Logic.) In 20th century philosophy handbooks, Rationalists believe reason has an ability to intuitively apprehend fundamental truths, while Empiricists deny the existence of such a faculty and emphasise the importance of experience in building up a mental picture of what is true.
The question of reason as the "faculty of first truths" is related to the topic of metaphysics, and in modern history there has been an ongoing debate between the proponents of metaphysics, and the empiricists such as David Hume, who deny the existence of a "faculty of first truths," and argue that all we know of the universe is gleaned from the application of logic to sensory data (the Platonists, in turn, argue that sensory information provides only imprecise reflections or "shadows" of reality, as in Plato's allegory of the cave, or reality as seen "through a glass darkly.") Bertrand Russell embarked on an ambitious project to produce a system of science that was completely devoid of metaphysics.
By his clear critique Hume did not only advance philosophy in a decisive way but also - though through no fault of his - created a danger for philosophy in that, following his critique, a fateful 'fear of metaphysics' arose which has come to be a malady of contemporary empiricist philosophising; this malady is the counterpart to that earlier philosophising in the clouds, which thought it could neglect and dispense with what was given by the senses. ... It finally turns out that one can, after all, not get along without metaphysics.
— Albert Einstein, Remarks on Bertrand Russell's Theory of Knowledge
Reason vs. LogicEdit
The 1913 edition of Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines Reason as:
The faculty or capacity of the human mind by which it is distinguished from the intelligence of the inferior animals; the higher as distinguished from the lower cognitive faculties, sense, imagination, and memory, and in contrast to the feelings and desires. Reason comprises conception, judgment, reasoning, and the intuitional faculty. Specifically, it is the intuitional faculty, or the faculty of first truths, as distinguished from the understanding, which is called the discursive or ratiocinative faculty.
This definition may be said to reflect the Platonic outlook, in that it refers to reason as "the faculty of first truths, as distinguished from the understanding, which is called the discursive or ratiocinative faculty."
Plato made a distinction between logic, i.e. reasoning that proceeds via Syllogism from a premise (which Plato calls understanding,) and reason, in this passage, part of what is sometimes referred to as the divided line:
And when I speak of the other division of the intelligible, you will understand me to speak of that other sort of knowledge which reason herself attains by the power of dialectic, using the hypotheses not as first principles, but only as hypotheses -- that is to say, as steps and points of departure into a world which is above hypotheses, in order that she may soar beyond them to the first principle of the whole; and clinging to this and then to that which depends on this, by successive steps she descends again without the aid of any sensible object, from ideas, through ideas, and in ideas she ends.
I understand you, he replied; not perfectly, for you seem to me to be describing a task which is really tremendous; but, at any rate, I understand you to say that knowledge and being, which the science of dialectic contemplates, are clearer than the notions of the arts, as they are termed, which proceed from hypotheses only: these are also contemplated by the understanding, and not by the senses: yet, because they start from hypotheses and do not ascend to a principle, those who contemplate them appear to you not to exercise the higher reason upon them, although when a first principle is added to them they are cognizable by the higher reason. And the habit which is concerned with geometry and the cognate sciences I suppose that you would term understanding and not reason, as being intermediate between opinion and reason.
— Plato, Book VI of the Republic
Now I do not complain of these ancients so much because their logic is, by their own showing, utterly baseless, worthless and fantastic altogether, as because of their pompous and imbecile proscription of all other roads of Truth, of all other means for its attainment than the two preposterous paths - the one of creeping and the one of crawling - to which they have dared to confine the Soul that loves nothing so well as to soar.
— Edgar Allan Poe, Mellonta Tauta
Reason as LogicEdit
Since the aforementioned Webster's definition was published in 1913, the prevailing views of reason have changed. A contemporary definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary goes as follows:
- (1) : the power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking especially in orderly rational ways : INTELLIGENCE (2) : proper exercise of the mind (3) : SANITY b : the sum of the intellectual powers
The definition of reason as the faculty of drawing logical inferences has gained considerable ground, to the point of being almost hegemonic, following the early 20th Century "revolt against idealism" and "revolt against metaphysics" (see Bertrand Russell: Analytic philosophy). The concept of reason as a type of thought that is "especially human" has been somewhat blurred, since animals (and computers -- see artificial intelligence) are capable of some forms of logical operations.
But in the sense that animals, and humans, can unconsciously, associate different perceptions as causes and effects and then make decisions or even plans, (if these words may be used for the sake of this discussion), it is felt by many people that reason is more than just the ability to draw inferences. So reason has also been conceived more broadly. In Charles Peirce's terms, humans have "thirdness" while abductive reasoning is only "firstness".
The neurologist Terrence Deacon, following the tradition of Peirce, has recently distinguished the type of thinking which is most essential to human rational thinking as a type of associative thinking. Reason by his account therefore requires associating perceptions in a way which may be arbitrary (or nominal, conventional or "formal") - not just associating the image or "icon" of smoke and the image of fire, but, for example, the image of smoke and the English word "smoke", or indeed any made-up "index" or "symbol" (not necessarily a spoken word). What is essential is however not the arbitrariness of symbols, but how they used.
This fits into an older tradition which makes reason connected to language, and mimesis, but more specifically the ability to create language as part of an internal modelling of reality specific to humankind. Other results are consciousness, and imagination or fantasy. Deacon and Peirce continue the English philosophical tradition: Thomas Hobbes describes the creation of “Markes, or Notes of remembrance” (Leviathan Ch.4) as “speech” (allowing by his definition that it is not necessarily a means of communication or speech in the normal sense; he was presumably thinking of "speech" as an English version of "logos" in this description). In the context of a language, these marks or notes are called "Signes" by Hobbes. David Hume, following John Locke (and Berkeley), who followed Hobbes, emphasized the importance of associations in thinking. The concept of reason is connected to language, as reflected in the meanings of the Greek word "logos", later to be translated by Latin "ratio" and then French "raison", from which the English word is derived. Indeed it has often been held that handicaped people lacking speech would fail to master reasoning; thus in some languages, a single word can still denote both "mute" and "stupid", e.g. stumm in German, stom (but also in full doofstom for a mute) in Dutch, and "dumb" in English. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson explicate reason and its scope in this manner:
- Reason includes not only our capacity for logical inference, but also our ability to conduct inquiry, to solve problems, to evaluate, to criticize, to deliberate about how we should act, and to reach an understanding of ourselves, other people, and the world. (Lakoff and Johnson 1999, pp. 3-4)
Proponents of the logical definition of reason differ as to their preference for either induction or deduction. While the English tradition is strongly empiricist, an influential example of the opposite is Immanuel Kant. For him, reason (Vernunft in Kant's German language) is the power of synthesizing into unity, by means of comprehensive principles, the concepts provided by the intellect (Verstand). The reason which gives a priori principles Kant calls "Pure Reason" (as in his A Critique of Pure Reason), as distinguished from the "Practical Reason" which is specially concerned with the performance of particular actions.
Reason, Truth and Emotion or Passion Edit
In literature, reason is often opposed to emotions or feelings, and desires, drives or passions. Others see reason as the servant or tool of these things -- the means of getting what one wants. Some would say however that many of the key philosophers of history (e.g. Plato, Rousseau, Hume, Nietzsche) have combined both views - making rational thinking not only a tool of desires, but also something which is itself desired, not only because of its usefulness in satisfying other desires. Schiller, however, spoke of "educating the emotions," bringing them into harmony with reason, a state of maturity that Schiller referred to as the "beautiful soul" (Schöne Seele.)
At the same time, reason sometimes clearly comes into conflict with some desires (even while not being in conflict with others) giving us the impression that reason is separate from emotion. Only in humans, choices are sometimes made on the basis of an association of ideas which is an artificially constructed model, rather than an un-inspected association based on raw experience, and this “feels” different than when one is won over by a passion supported by raw “feeling”. The opposite is also unique – we sometimes feel that a passion has won over our decision-making “unjustly”, despite having lost its argument, or perhaps (in the case, for example, of a reflex action, not even having been a subject of argument before the action took place).
The question of whether reason is driven by emotions is important for philosophers because reason is seen by us all as being the way that we come to know the truth, and we see the truth as something which exists outside of own consciousness. If reason is driven by emotions, then how can we ever know that we are not deceiving ourselves about what is true? Nietzsche was particularly moved by this question.
Reason and faithEdit
In theology, reason, as distinguished from faith, is the human critical faculty exercised upon religious truth whether by way of discovery or by way of explanation. Some commentators have claimed that Western civilization can be almost defined by its serious testing of the limits of tension between reason and faith - Jerusalem and Athens. Leo Strauss spoke of a "Greater West" which included all areas under the influence of the tension between Greek and Abrahamic thinking, including the Muslim lands. He was particularly influenced by the great Muslim philosopher Al-Farabi. In order to consider to what extent Eastern philosophy might have partaken of these important tensions, it is perhaps best to consider whether dharma or tao may be equivalent to Nature (by which we mean physis (Greek).
The limits within which reason may be used have been laid down differently in different churches and periods of thought: on the whole, modern religion tends to allow to reason a wide field, reserving, however, as the sphere of faith the ultimate (supernatural) truths of theology.
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