We have been sold the idea that Reason (intentionally capitalized) is a sort of god that can lead you to all truth. Not only will her light illuminate your path, it will guide you into all truth.
Need to distinguish between truth and falsehood? Reason is here to save the day. Want to have an intelligent prosperous society? Look to Reason! She will not fail you!
But I have some bad news for those who think like this… It is not clear reason even exists…
Logic Does Exist
Logic does exist. Logic is, in fact, so clear you can write it out just like math. It is just as certain as math. But the problem is that pure logic is almost never enough to make a decision.
For example, take this statement, “if you don’t work today, you won’t get paid.” Seems about as obvious a statement as you can get.
This can be transferred to logical symbols as such.
W = Going to work today
P = Getting paid
~W ⊃ ~P
Looks pretty! But there is a serious flaw. As long as we can find one situation where you could get paid without going to work, the logic is completely disproven. ~W ⊃ ~P would be false.
That is actually pretty easy if you think about it. How about a sick day? Less likely, what if they mailed you a check accidentally? No matter how comically unlikely, as long as we can find one possible scenario where you don’t go to work and still get paid the logic has been refuted.
But we have to motivate people to go to work… it is considerations like this that make the world go round.
We have found that logic does not so much as allow us to truthfully say that you have to go to work to get paid. Amazing!
There are lots of other situations we could find like this, and get into even more detail to rebut the naysayers’ objections, but that seems like good enough for now.
What the heck is Reason?
Here is what Merriam Webster says…
“(1) : the power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking especially in orderly rational ways : intelligence (2) : proper exercise of the mind (3) : sanity : the sum of the intellectual powers.”
Doesn’t that strike you as a bit ambiguous?
What counts as “the proper exercise of the mind?” What counts as rational thinking? Who determines what is rational and not rational? Logic is clear and undeniable, but as we have already seen it doesn’t seem like enough to guide us.
Logic follows by necessity like math.
What is guiding us then?
Perhaps it is not the fabled Reason that is our guide as it doesn’t seem objective or self-sufficent as logic does.
Perhaps it is, “simply a matter of good eyesight” as Pascal said about the intuitive mind. And perhaps, as the Bible suggests, one’s eyesight can be influenced by the character of their heart.
Is this helping White Supremacists?
White Supremacists, Nationalists, Nazis, or whatever we are calling them these days have learned to argue. As Breitbart says of the Alt-right, “they’re dangerously bright.”
In fact, this is when bigotry gets really dangerous. As Holocaust scholar Dr. Chrisopher Browning recognized, as long as Hitler was fighting in bars he wasn’t that effective. But once he could present himself as a respectable person and take the legitimate political route he could succeed.
If we can make a legitimate sounding argument to refute: “if you don’t work today, you won’t get paid” then couldn’t we make a legitimate sounding argument to justify white supremacy? Or what about a slyer proposition, the idea that all races are not equal (they aren’t exactly alike after all)?
It seems to me that this is what is happening, and we would understand it better if we understood what brilliant people used to think about reason.
Genius who saw the holes of “Reason”
“…reason may be bent to everything.”
– the great mathematician and inventor, Blaise Pascal.
What is the solution?
I don’t pretend to know for sure. But my guess is that Jesus was onto something when he noticed that debaters can come from bad intentions.
Rather than indulging infinite intellectual debate about whether someone will get paid despite not going to work, maybe the better option is to tell them they are just trying to get out of going to work. Or maybe the better option is to point out the whole argument is ridiculous (though I would think caution should be used with such a controversial response). Or maybe the better option is simply to point out how logic & reason can be misused. Or maybe the better option is to focus on love rather than such solutions.
What do you think?