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 Nine Critiques of Reason

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Aaron
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PostSubject: Nine Critiques of Reason   Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:22 pm

I'm someone who thinks highly of "reason" as anyone you knows me could probably guess and try to promote reason as much as I can. I also like to entertain opposing viewpoints from time to time as well. In that spirit I came across this list of "Nine Critiques of Reason" from a post-modern point of view. I'm interested in your reaction to the list.

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What are some of these post-Enlightenment critiques of reason? Here is a quick summary of nine that I find important to the problem of legal reasoning. Afterwards I'll slow down, look at a few of them more closely, and examine their effect on legal reasoning.

Remarkably, these nine critiques of reason can be organized into a nine-tier argument in the alternative. A defense lawyer might argue: "My client never laid eyes on the victim of this horrible crime; but even if he did, he was not at the scene of the murder at the time of the killing; but even if he was, he's not the shooter; but even if he was, he was insane; and if he wasn't, then it was clearly self-defense." Similarly, a critic of reason might argue as follows:

1. The word "reason" is meaningless but laudatory. It is now only a catchword, and to say that your position is supported by reason is just a conclusory and question-begging way of saying that it's true.

2. But even if the word "reason" does mean something, the faculty it points to does not exist as advertised. For it is claimed that reason is transcendent, objective, gender-neutral, class-neutral, culture-neutral, century-neutral, emotionless, independent of the body, and disinterested, yet on close examination it turns out that no form of thinking bears this description.

3. But even if it does exist, it cannot be justified without reasoning, hence without vicious circularity. But if circular justifications are adequate, then many other would-be authorities are suddenly on a par with reason. Why not appeal to majority rule instead of reason, since the majority favors it, or wealth, since the wealthy favor it? Of course, the proponents of reason claim it is really justified, while the others are just pretenders. But how would we know this? Through reasoning?

4. But even if it can be justified, it is a merely instrumental tool, malleable to human will. For it may draw valid inferences, but only from given premises; and it may discern efficient means, but only to given ends. The conclusions it supports may be false and the ends it serves may be wicked; that only makes the point that every proposition can be supported by valid reasoning and every end can be pursued efficiently.

5. But even if it does have a principle, its principle is merely empty and procedural. For it advises nothing more than be careful, proceed slowly, check everything twice, and keep everything open to criticism. This, however, is simple caution which does not deserve the glory (eternality, transcendence, objectivity) imputed to reason.

6. But even if its principle is substantive and not merely procedural, its principle is false. For it demands identity without difference, when reality is fluid and dialectical. Or it demands static, eternal truths, when truth is dynamic. Or it demands argument and evidence, when important affirmations are and must be sheer, groundless choices.

7. But even if reason is not false, then at least it is rare. For our judgment is usually distorted by emotion, fear, wish, anger, cruelty, spite, habit, convention, authority, ideology, or interest. We repress and deny truths, avoid facing evidence squarely or weighing it fairly, mistake irrelevant for relevant evidence, mistake insufficient for sufficient evidence, hold inconsistent beliefs, hold beliefs unreflectively, insulate our beliefs from the effects of criticism and experience, and settle our disagreements through violence.

8. But even if not rare, reason is weak and insufficient. For it is of little or no use in attaining what is most important in life, whether we decide that that is love, friendship, community, wisdom, serenity, justice, courage, faith, salvation, art, or even knowledge.

9. But even if reason is strong, it has a dark side. For if we isolate reason and use it without the correcting influence of the other parts of the human being, then it can make weapons of mass destruction or make an industry of exterminating Jews. Because reason is one-sided, taken alone it is dehumanizing.
http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/writing/leglreas.htm#critiques

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PostSubject: Re: Nine Critiques of Reason   Wed Feb 29, 2012 4:45 pm

I too, am a fan of Reason, in part, because my Intuition is not very reliable, and needs to be verified by more rational methods. But I also agree that Objective Reason is more of an unreachable ideal goal than a methodical scientific reality. Some who think of themselves as Rational thinkers, may be simply blissfully unaware that most of their routine thinking is thoughtless, inattentive, or even rash.

For comparison, I think of Intuition as a thought movie : mental images moving so rapidly that you can only "see" the overall scheme : IOW, Holistic thinking and perceiving. By contrast, Reason allows us to slow down the movie and focus on individual "snapshots", at the expense of sometimes missing the overall meaning : IOW, Reductive thinking and inferring. Together, we can get both the general gist and the specific details of what's happening : IOW, complete understanding.

Unfortunately, some people don't care about the details, and often miss something significant to appreciating the whole picture. Other thinkers, are so narrowly focused on the details that they miss the big picture. So the best way of viewing the flow of life is to combine both thinking styles.
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PostSubject: Re: Nine Critiques of Reason   Wed Mar 07, 2012 9:16 am

    "The god of the cannibals will be a cannibal, of the crusaders a crusader, and of the merchants a merchant." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


Reason is a rather nebulous term similar to the word "god". What one means by it is usually relative to the user.

This is an example of the sort of "reason" that was all too common during the Renaissance period in Europe.



That sort of reasoning is worthy of critique at it's own level. I think the author of the above critique is arguing against a different type of "reason"; the type one that is often espoused by Objectivists and "extreme" modernists. I think the author has many valid points in that regard, however I would just comment that that type of reason isn't the only type of reason. Reason is an ever evolving process not a static thing. It's up to us as individuals and as society to improve upon our reasoning abilities with the knowledge that we will never get it fully correct.

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