REASON AND RATIONALITY
I know that what I mean to say here I have already said many times before and I think I will be saying it again and again, because, though it is very simple, many clever people seem to find it very hard to absorb.
Whitehead has pointed out that it is wrong to think that modern science and modern philosophy have been founded on reason and reasoning. It was Scholasticism that was based completely and consistently on reasoning. If you begin with any primary statement given as true, then by strictly valid logical reasoning you can establish any conclusions you desire. The distinctive character of modern science and modern philosophy was not the reliance on reason for reaching conclusions but the working with reason as a tool to winnow and sift and test given presuppositions and assumptions. For modern science and philosophy reason has been downgraded from a master to a servant.
In a moving episode of the Phaedo drama, Socrates warns against ‘misology’ or loss of faith in reason. Allow me to reproduce the following paragraph from my Plato: An Interpretation (2005), Chapter V, “The Meaning of the Phaedo:
“The atmosphere of dejection and loss of heart depicted following the objections of Simmias and Cebes and Socrates' cautioning against misology are an integral part of the total picture. If Plato had thought there were room for certainty in philosophical thinking, this episode would have been of little value. Against the background of the admitted inconclusiveness of all the arguments advanced, the warning against misology highlights the question as to the possibility and utility of rationalism. If we are convinced that reason cannot yield incontestable truth, then we are naturally disposed to ask, What use is it to follow reason? The answer of Socrates and of Plato is that our worth as human beings resides in the exercise of reason, and if all truths proposed by human beings are necessarily half-truths, we are not therefore obliged to rest in these half-truths: our intellectual integrity and our human dignity demand that we always see our half-truths for what they are. Faced with the insufficiency of discursive thinking, Plato opts neither for the imbecility of Pascal nor for the despair of the Tractatus Wittgenstein. If we cannot have definitive truths, let us clothe our insights in myths, provided that we be always prepared to shatter our own myths.”
I would say that the same thought I am advancing here is behind Kant’s examination of the ‘Antinomies of Pure Reason’ in his Critique of Pure Reason, whose lessons, I maintain, theologians, scientists, and philosophers have not yet sufficiently absorbed.
The product of reasoning may give us wealth, power, and comfort, or may lead to the contrary of all that; but it is in the creative activity of exercising reason, in the never-ceasing and never-ending act of reasoning that ever destroys its grounds and ever builds them anew, that we are truly human and live truly human lives.
Cairo, 8 June 2013.