Archive for the ‘reason is limited’ Category

reason has short wings

May 29, 2013

…reason has short wings

Dante, Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto II)

A bicycle is a useful and good means of transport but can only take us so far. It cannot cross oceans. The rationalist denies the existence of these other continents because his chosen means of transport cannot take him there.

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False Predictions based on accurate knowledge

August 21, 2012

In 1960…a best-selling book said that the United States had only a 13-year supply of domestic petroleum at the existing rate of usage. At that time, the known petroleum reserves of the United States were not quite 32 billion barrels. At the end of the 13 years, the known petroleum reserves of the United States were more than 36 billion barrels. Yet the original statistics and the arithmetic based on them were both accurate. Why then did the United States not run out of oil by 1973? Was it just dumb luck that more oil was discovered—or were there more fundamental economic reasons?

Just as shortages and surpluses are not simply a matter of how much physical stuff there is, either absolutely or relative to the population, so known reserves of natural resources are not simply a matter of how much physical stuff there is underground. For natural resources as well, prices are crucial. So are present values.

Sowell, Thomas, Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy (Basic Books, 2004) p.205

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


Human reason… is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.

September 25, 2009

Human reason… is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

How can we prove that we shall die, or that there will be a tomorrow? Yet what could be more obvious?

September 25, 2009

Indeed, how little we really do prove. For proofs only convince the mind. But habits provide us with more effective and widespread proofs, modifying the mind without ever being conscious of it. For example, how can we prove that we shall die, or that there will be a tomorrow? Yet what could be more obvious? It is habit that really tends to convince us, and indeed, it makes us either Christians, or even Turks, or pagans, or merchants, soldiers or anything else. In all of these we have to act upon some faith that lies beyond where ‘bare proof’ will take us…

…so we have to rely upon faith when the mind is convinced of the direction in which truth lies, or to influence the mind when truth seems to evade us. We would be overdoing things if we insisted upon having proofs for everything we did, all the time.

Blaise Pascal, The Mind on Fire (from the works of Blaise Pascal), ed. James M. Houston (Bethany House Publishers, 1997) pp46-47

A man that sets himself to reason without divine light is like a man that goes in the dark into a garden full of the most beautiful plants

September 24, 2009

Ratiocination, without·spiritual light, never will give one such an advantage to see things in their true relations and respects to other things, and to things in general. A man that sets himself to reason without divine light is like a man that goes in the dark into a garden full of the most beautiful plants, and most artfully ordered, and compares things together by going from one thing to another to feel of them all, to perceive their beauty.

Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellanies #408,” 249

Finding bad reasons for what we already be lieve on instinct

September 16, 2009

…metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we already believe upon instinct.

F. H. Bradley, philosopher

No age has known less than ours of what man is

September 8, 2009

“No age,” writes Heidegger in his Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, “has known so much, and so many different things, about man as ours…And no age has known less than ours of what man is.”

Martin Buber, Between man and Man, p.219

We don’t know the future

August 4, 2009

There is no action of man in this life that is not the beginning of so long a chain of consequences as no human providence is high enough to give a man a prospect to the end (my emph.). And in this chain there are linked together both pleasing and unpleasing events; in such manner as he that will do anything for his pleasure, must engage himself to suffer all the pains annexed to it; and these pains are the natural punishments of those actions which are the beginning of more harm than good.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD BY NATURE, ch. XXXI

Human Wisdom is limited

August 4, 2009

The London Plague of 1665

The Black Death. In the year 1665 death came calling on the city of London. Death in the form of plague. People called it the Black Death, black for the colour of the tell-tale lumps that foretold its presence in a victim’s body, and death for the inevitable result.

By mid July over 1,000 deaths per week were reported in the city. It was rumored that dogs and cats spread the disease, so the Lord Mayor ordered all the dogs and cats destroyed. Author Daniel Defoe in his Journal of the Plague Years estimated that 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats were killed. The real effect of this was that there were fewer natural enemies of the rats who carried the plague fleas, so the germs spread more rapidly.

http://www.britainexpress.com/History/plague.htm

Of course we know better now and there has been medical progress, but actions are always based on the (limited ) information at the time – then as now. After all, if this weren’t so we would hardly be in the economic crisis we are (2009).