Archive for the ‘rationalism’ Category

Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all

June 5, 2010

Know Thyself

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is Man. Placed on this isthmus of a middle state A being darkly wise and rudely great: With too much knowledge for the sceptic side, With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride, He hangs between; in doubt to act or rest, In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast, In doubt his mind or body to prefer; Born but to die, and reasoning but to err; Alike in ignorance, his reason such Whether he thinks too little or too much: Chaos of thought and passion, all confused; Still by himself abused, or disabused; Created half to rise and half to fall; Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all; Sole judge of truth, in endless errors hurled; The glory, jest and riddle of the world!

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Pope captures beautifully the contradiction that man is: the riddle of the world!

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Madame Sophistry, the clever whore

November 24, 2009

Madame Sophistry, the clever whore

Martin Luther

nothing good can be done if the will is wrong! Reason alone fails to justify itself

November 17, 2009

…nothing good can be done if the will is wrong! Reason alone fails to justify itself. Not without cause has the devil been called the prince of lawyers, and not by accident are Shakespeare’s villains good reasoners. If the disposition is wrong, reason increases maleficence; if it is right, reason orders and furthers the good.

Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences


The Greeks have but one word, logos, for both speech and reason; not that they thought there was no speech without reason, but no reasoning without speech

October 29, 2009

The Greeks have but one word, logos, for both speech and reason; not that they thought there was no speech without reason, but no reasoning without speech.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Part 1, Chapter IV

 

I can’t justify it, but it was a deep and sincere prayer – a prayer for strength to subdue my instincts

October 13, 2009

Despite being a critic of religion,  Bertrand Russell’s biographer, Ray Monk, writes that he once prayed on his knees to God in the San Zeno Maggiore, Verona. He was struggling to control his sexual passions. Russell wrote:

I can’t justify it, but it was a deep and sincere prayer – a prayer for strength to subdue my instincts.

Clearly his rationalism wasn’t of much help at that time.

philosophies which claim to be based upon reason alone turn out to be elaborate rationalizations which conceal the initial act of faith upon which they are based

September 26, 2009

Every philosopher who attempts to build a metaphysic is ultimately dependent upon some ‘faith principle’…even those philosophies which claim to be based upon reason alone without any admixture of faith, always turn out upon examination to be elaborate rationalizations which conceal the initial act of faith upon which they are based. Reason cannot walk by its own light, and must seek the illumination of some principle of interpretation which reason itself does not contain. The general paralysis of metaphysical speculation in an age like our own in which philosophers are reluctant to believe in anything at all or to make any kind of venture of faith is the unwitting endorsement on the part of modern skepticism itself of the truth of the Christian view that reason is blind until faith takes it by the hand.

Alan Richardson?

For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me

September 24, 2009

[Bertrand Russell was present when the wife of his collaborator Alfred North Whitehead was undergoing an unusually severe bout of pain due to heart trouble. He was 29 at the time, and in the following excerpt from his autobiography he described the effect this experience had on him.]

She seemed cut off from everyone and everything by walls of agony, and the sense of the solitude of each human soul suddenly overwhelmed me. Every since my marriage, my emotional life had been calm and superficial. I had forgotten all the deeper issues, and had been content with flippant cleverness. Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region…
At the end of those five minutes, I had become a completely different person. For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me. I felt that I knew the inmost thoughts of everybody that I met in the street, and though this was, no doubt, a delusion, I did in actual fact find myself in far closer touch than previously with all my friends, and many of my acquaintances. Having been an Imperialist, I became during those five minutes a pro-Boer and a Pacifist. Having for years cared only for exactness and analysis, I found myself filled with semi-mystical feelings about beauty, with an intense interest in children, and with a desire almost as profound as that of the Buddha to find some philosophy which should make human life endurable. A strange excitement possessed me, containing intense pain but also some element of triumph through the fact that I could dominate pain, and make it, as I thought, a gateway to wisdom. The mystic insight which I then imagined myself to possess has largely faded, and the habit of analysis has reasserted itself. But something of what I thought I saw in that moment has remained always with me, causing my attitude during the first war, my interest in children, my indifference to minor misfortunes, and a certain emotional tone in all my human relations.

In other place he says:

Within five minutes I went through such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; it follows that war is wrong, that a public school education is abominable, that the use of force is to be deprecated…

Bertrand Russell, in Ray Monk, vol.1, p.135

So for all his rationalism, basically his pacifism was based on this five minute religious experience. If he was ‘deluded’ about seeing into people’s souls, how did he know he wasn’t deluded about being pro-Boer and pacifist – sentiments that he fought for (not literally of course – that would be inconsistent!) the rest of his life.

He also said that he learned in this experience that, ‘strife is the root of all evil and gentleness the only balm. I became infinitely gentle for a time.’

So he learned that gentleness is good not through reason but through an experience. And it didn’t last.

There is nothing so consistent with reason as the denial of reason

September 24, 2009

There is nothing so consistent with reason as the denial of reason. For reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things beyond it. If natural things are beyond it, what can we say about the supernatural?…Reason can be twisted in any direction.

Pascal

‘There is nothing so consistent with reason as the denial of reason’ because reason points beyond itself for an explanation in terms which are not immediately accessibly to reason. Similarly, maths explains many things, but not the existence of itself. Logic is a useful thing, but its basis, why its laws are valid and so on, are not given in logic itself. Many will deny that maths and logic need an explanation in terms of something higher. But this is not proof against the fact that these things are inexplicable in and of themselves.

By the way, Pascal was a mathematician – a brilliant mathematician.

It is impossible to prove by reason alone that reason has the validity accorded it by humanism

September 24, 2009

It is impossible to prove by reason alone that reason has the validity accorded it by humanism, and the twentieth century has strongly undermined this confidence in two places. Modern psychology has shown that, far from being utterly rational, man has motivations at a deeper level than his reasoning powers, and he is only partially aware of these forces. Much of what was called reasoning is now more properly called rationalizing.

Os Guinness, Dust of Death, 1973, p.14

If leaderless chaos be all, rest content that in the midst of this storm-swept sea Reason still dwells and rules within thee

September 24, 2009

The universe must be governed either by a fore-ordained destiny, an order that none may overstep, by a merciful Providence, or by a chaos of chance devoid of a ruler. If the theory of an insuperable fate be true, why struggle against it? If Providence watches over all and may be inclined to mercy, render thyself worthy of celestial aid. But if leaderless chaos be all, rest content that in the midst of this storm-swept sea Reason still dwells and rules within thee. And if the tide swirl thee away, let it take thy flesh and spirit, with all the rest ; for Reason it cannot take.

…if there be a God all is well ; if chance governs all, see that it govern not thee.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.14; 9.27

But if all is chaos, then reason is meaningless because it implies reason assumes the laws of logic. Laws of logic cannot pertain in a chaotic universe. If chaos is all then Reason goes to the wall. Why believe in an island of rationality when all we see is sea of chaos? But our belief in reason suggest another One who is Reason itself, the grounding all rationality, who became flesh and dwelt among us.