Reason and Skepticism
Three centuries ago, reason was a lighthouse guiding the ship out of the port. It was a brave voice in the back of our whispering collective consciousness saying when to put a sheet in the wind’s eye and when to abstain from animation. It was the wasp at a party who preyed upon the priests and looked to heaven for naught. In the Age of Enlightenment, it was overlord and everything seemed possible. However, a conspiracy against reason arose among those who harbored resentment against it; for it denied both the supernatural world and the land of wishful thinking. Academics created a virus, a philosophic myxomatosis, and injected it into the Western world through academia. Historically, this progression went from philosophers dividing knowledge into the pure good clean catholic kind, (a priori-analytic), and the earthy, corrupt, materialistic or protestant type, (posteriori-synthetic). Though embodied by Kant, the original divide went back to Descartes' dualism and Bacon's runaway empiricism. Real knowledge and certitude fell to the mathematical type, being a language adequate for conveying precise meaning and ineffective for inspiring people (brutally paraphrased from Thomas Szasz). From this mathematical kind of knowledge, mathematics then was reduced to logic, from logic to tautology, to finally a sort of general version of impoverished empiricism, analyticity, first championed by the Analysts and The Vienna Circle, the ones who saved the world for epistemological uncertainty, egalitarianism and platonic supernaturalism. Take this extreme philosophic quip in 1913 by Bertrand Russell: "The law of causality, I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm."
Let's count a full three seconds after Planck Time in the Big Bang event (just as an example) . . . 1001, 1002, 1003, everything after this point (say) has causality through the Arrow of Time; cause(s) and effect(s) follow one after the other and that's why (say) a traffic light causes you to stop the vehicle you're driving when it is red (and so forth).
The Dirty Material Sensual Knowledge Was Rendered Useless.
This is what reason really is: the way of checking column A, the humanly observed, with column B, the really-real, and to do so in a clear, consistent and logically coherent way for human-beings even with the codicil, that we are subjective observers in an evolving organism which is life, and that consequently, absolutism isn’t possible. Reason is that which grasps necessary connections. Good epistemology searches out the tools of logic, reason and science, but knows, in the modern sense, that any true knowledge needs verification, skepticism, trial and error, self-criticism, a whole host of critical sources, (induction, deduction, abduction/inference), self-education, inspiration and so forth. Science grew out of philosophy for important reasons, and one of the most vital was that the language was not censored inside of it as it had been by theological, scholastic vehicles. Reason sheds a light in dark places, revealing a truth where before was the unknown, ignorance and the void. Art often gate-crashes the party, drinking blindly from the cup, sending a shaft of light into the shadows. Necessity is the mother to the kingdom of consciousness, that which first gave birth to philosophy. Art, the brain-child of reason, creates myth. Science, the heir apparent to reason, reveals the form. Religion, the old wet-nurse to reason, tries in vain to set the moral standards.
Reason is the art of philosophizing and grasping things that are logically joined. It’s an evidentiary explanation of why the cue ball falls in the billiard pocket and the helium balloon floats, or like, morning star and evening star, or like the seasons are directly connected to the earth’s tilt and spin, or like the universe is an ongoing evolving organic event in duration (relativity and evolution) or like nationalism leads frequently to ruthless autocratic regimes, or like Marxists who seize power will often use labor camps and torture to convert its critics, or like ideologists have a propensity to mix up means and ends, or like, churches often condemn their enemies’ souls to an eternity of hellfire, or like, Lord Acton’s famous dictum, that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, or like, Churchill’s quip, that democracy is the worst system in the world except all the others, *, or like, “Ideas have consequences”.
Why we should trust in reason compared to other modes of awareness such as faith, intuiting, emoting, wishing and instinct, is that it’s the only one that can look at reality with open eyes; sober, as it were, and use logic and the results of scientific methodology. For nothing is inexplicable to reason if only the tools of science, falsefiability, induction, deduction, reduction, empirical data collection, self-criticism, hypothesis, mathematics, language and all the resources of comprehension are available to us, or to quote Dawkins from A Devil's Chaplain: testability, evidential support, precision, quantifiability, consistency, intersubjectivity, repeatability, universality, progressiveness, independence of cultural milieu and so forth. Views exist that the mind is a retainer beyond the control of reason, that we are the owner of an underground labyrinth which we can’t consciously visit. Reason is that very flashlight which allows us to roam the dark maze. It gives us the only control, like, of which we’re so capable with proper application, but of which, there is so little in the world. And as for miracles? There are no supernatural miracles. Period! Oh wait, there is one miracle: the dumb dolts on the planet at this point in time who still believe in astrology, racism and miracles despite all the evidence to the contrary.
We have a conceptual way of being aware. Thinking is not a reflex. It must be initiated and sustained by active choice. To be left exempt from coercive interference to act on our own judgement is the foundation of liberty. This is why liberty and reason are connected and are basic pillars of our being. In any interactions, the collective is restrained by the individual’s right to his own mind. Truth is more like a riddle which reason fashions: a healthy skepticism plus a search for true facts equals much tentative knowledge.
*, "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." Winston Churchill, November 11, 1947, British politician (1874 - 1965).
© 2023 - E. A. St. Amant