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A Limited Contradictory Tool is No Compass

June 26, 2012

“The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason.” — Thomas Paine

“Everything that is beautiful and noble is the product of reason and calculation.” — Charles Baudelaire

Our society honors Reason to the highest degree. Our history textbooks frame all of history as the early dawn of it in Greece and Rome rising from chaotic pre-history, the loss of Reason in the Dark and Middle Ages, and its glorious return in the Enlightenment. It is a tool we all use – myself included – and we feel just in placing people in institutions who fail to exercise it with a minimum basic competency.

It is credited with all of our amazing success in understanding nature and developing the incredible technologies which have so improved and extended our lives. It is no wonder then, the level of honor bestowed upon Reason. But is it justified?

Were the ancient Greeks and Romans really the only practitioners of reason in their time, leading to their military, economic and political dominance? Was a major reduction in the use of reason truly the cause of the distinctive aspects of the Middle Ages? Are our modern advances the result of reason or something deeper, which leads men to understand that reason can be applied on the world to make sense of it? Can reason alone lead us to wisdom and morality?

Descartes thought he could build a perfect rational philosophical system from the starting point “Cogito Ergo Sum – I think, therefore I am” using nothing but reason. He seemed unaware that the neo-Platonic angle from which he approached this entire exercise would lead him to a neo-Platonic philosophy. But what is this “angle” or “something deeper”? Worldview.

It is Worldview which LEADS the direction reason will FOLLOW.

Consider just this one proof from our everyday lives: Lawyers and Debaters are trained to use reason – they are in fact acknowledged as its highest practitioners. Expert Lawyers and Debaters are able to argue either side of an argument with “valid” reason. Reason is a tool which in one hand could prove the truth of a proposition and in another hand, its falsehood. How then can any claim that this tool can lead us to truth on its own?

Dig deeper to examine your worldview; what is your “angle” on life? Discover and refine this first. Decide what will and won’t qualify to you as “truth”. Decide how you will view your own mental capabilities and position in the universe. Only then can reason can be an effective tool. Only when our heading is well set should we use it to cover ground in that direction.

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From → Worldview

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