“Man is not rational…just look at him!”
I hope you grasp the equivocation.
Man is a rational animal, but this need not mean he acts reasonably. Reason can be, in this manner, most unreasonable. Even when using the mind to make judgments (which is by definition an act of reason), one’s conclusions need not be rational in the sense that they are true or good.
Lest we succumb to equivocation, we should take care to distinguish between the faculty of reason, its operations, and its right use. All men have the faculty or power of reason. If the brain is not damaged, they are capable of rational operations. But not all men will reason well or correctly. Some will abuse reason because of defects in mental training, others because of defects of will, and all of us will often fail on both counts!
One of the grave defects of intellectual training is the inability to make good distinctions. The previous paragraph attempts to make distinctions. It divides one use of the word ‘reason’ from others. It also divides the causes of bad reason into kinds (intellectual training, will (desire), or a combination of the two).
The human soul desires truth. It may stop seeking it if it has lost hope, but the mind can find no real rest outside of truth. Even true opinion is insufficient because we desire not just to know that something is the case, but also to know that we know it and why it is so.
Therefore, we have to become good at distinguishing those arguments provided by reason (the faculty) from those arguments which are truly reasonable. There is a vast difference between:
It takes training to distinguish between these three, particularly in an age of skepticism. This might seem a subject fit for a philosophy class, but it is rather common problem. One encounters this regularly, whenever a situation or question requires clear and careful thinking.
- A Possible Objection
- A Reasonable Objection
- A Willful Objection
Essential questions about human life related to the soul, ethics, eternity, God, freedom, anthropology, law, happiness, economics all hinge on being able to make good and true judgments about reality.
- Is capitalism merely one option among many? It is a better option? Is it the only moral option?
- Is marriage something subject to redefinition?
- What is gender?
- What is racism?
- What is happiness and why am I unhappy?
We have no hope of answering these questions if we cannot distinguish between a possible objection one can make, a good or rational objection, and a willful or skeptical objection.
For Plato and Aristotle, those who denied reality, who denied an immediate awareness (however imperfect) of what is real, were de facto excluded from philosophy and rational inquiry. The very ground of reason was denied by such barbarians and lunatics. Socratic skepticism was founded in wonder, in the experience of the manifold and real ground of experience which yet escapes our full articulation. Socratic skepticism was never a form of radical or total skepticism, but one grounded in a recognition that what we do know does not fully comprehend what can be known or what is.
A creature with reason (the faculty) can object: what if it is all an illusion? What if I am really a squid? What if everything is the opposite of what it is? What if all is meaningless? What if everything is in flux? What if I am just an experiment by aliens?
These are all possible expressions. These are not all reasonable expressions. The very possibility of doubt is actually based on the experience of things known, on contact with being.
We arrive at skepticism (radical or otherwise) having actually trusted things we have heard and seen and by imitating things people have said. The Cartesian and more radical forms of skepticism (for Descartes was in no way himself actually a skeptic) all depend upon prior and continual contact with reality. Therefore, the mind does not work itself to the real by an act of reason. The mind is that by which we are already in contact with the real.
The mind does not need to get out of itself and into the world through some form of proof or reasoning. We do not reason ourselves into reality. Rather, the mind is that by which we are already and always in touch with things. The interiority of the human mind is simultaneously our contact with the real. Reason or ratio is already receptive of and intentional directed to a world or what is other than it. The world which we question exists in the mind only because the mind exists in the world. There is a world for us because there is reason and more significantly: there is reason because there is a world!
This is the fundamental starting place of all human experience and thinking, even the most skeptical. It may be rejected in an act of ratiocination, but it is always returned to the moment a person takes any action. Every person is a realist in their acting life, except those who have gone mad.
One may not be able to prove the real world, but this is only because it is the fundamental premise of all thinking. Premises which grasp immediately are not subject to proof–they are known better than those things we prove. This is not circular, this is simply the ground of human experience.
When one recognizes this, one must begin to admit there must be a distinction between those argument which are possible for a rational creature to articulate, and those which are reasonable to articulate and reasonable to hold.
Again, not everything one can argue is rational. Not every objection is reasonable, even if it is possible to state the possibility of some objection. A person who cannot distinguish the verbal or imaginative from the real objection is intellectually immature. A person who will not make this distinction is willful and therefore lacks the requisite virtues for the practical or intellectual life.
Let us not be fooled, neither the confused skeptic nor the willful skeptic have anything to do with the real roots and goals of philosophy. Neither of them can teach us what it is to be human or how to seek those things we are truly ordered toward by virtue of having a human soul.