Archive for the ‘man motivated by non rational factors’ 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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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


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.

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

Antonio Damasio describes 12 patients who lost the pre-frontal part of their brains, the part that controls our emotions

September 24, 2009

In his book, Descartes’ Error, Antonio Damasio describes 12 patients who lost the pre-frontal part of their brains, the part that controls our emotions. These people were ‘rational fools’. They were normal in every respect, had no paralysis and no damage to the general intelligence, and performed just as well in psychological tests as they did before their accidents. But their lives seemed to fall apart. They could not hold down jobs, show affection or take decisions. They were completely cold-blooded, showing no response to either good news or bad, to love or to hate. Despite their rationality, they had lost control of their lives…

Charles Handy, The Hungry Spirit, pp.104-5

philosophy very often turns out to be the finding of bad reasons for whatever ideological prejudices self-interest has engendered

September 24, 2009

Metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe upon instinct (F.H. Bradley)

But men’s philosophy very often turns out to be the finding of bad reasons for whatever ideological prejudices self-interest has engendered in their minds; men’s reasons so often turn out to be rationalizations, and not ‘reasons’ at all. “The heart is deceitful above all things and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17.9)…man’s endless capacity and predilection for self-deception.

Alan Richardson, Christian Apologetics, 1955, p.76

There can be nothing so absurd, but may be found in the books of philosophers

September 16, 2009

For it is most true that Cicero saith of them somewhere; that there can be nothing so absurd, but may be found in the books of philosophers.

Thomas Hobbes

This is what Hobbes calls in man:

…the privilege of absurdity, to which no living creature is subject, but men only. And of men, those are of all most subject to it that profess philosophy.

Leviathan, ch. 5

Claiming to be wise, they became fools… Romans. 1.22

Russell’s Mysticism

September 14, 2009

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… Having been an imperialist, I became during those five minutes a pro-Boer and a pacifist.

Bertrand Russell, 1901, aged 28

It’s amazing that a man who would say that we should follow reason, not tradition or religious experience, should have changed his beliefs so radically in a mystical experience.

Quite why pro-Boer means pacifist, given they fought to defend their land, I’m not sure – except it was an anti-(British)Imperialist position