Question…is it reasonable to accept 'only reason'?


September 18, 2001


 

 

I got this question:

 

I need some help.  I am working with a follower of XYZ who will only accept reason.

 

Any suggestions?

 

I replied:

 

Friend, I don't know anything at all about XYZ, so I don't know how they use the word 'reason'.

 

But when I encounter 'normal' reason-only types, I always probe these areas first:

 

1. What 'reason' can you give for accepting 'reason'? In other words, to use what you are trying to justify (reason) to PROVE it, is called 'begging the question' in most areas. By definition, to justify a position ('reason only') you have to use something OUTSIDE the position or it is a circular argument.

 

2. Logic (and this is where their definition. of reason is important) STARTS WITH unproven axioms, givens, and assumptions. BY DEFINITION, these axioms are not provable by the system (and hence, MUST come from some other source/authority than 'reason'). Without some content-propositions (none of which can be provided by logic, or the system is circular), the logical operators or rules of reason HAVE NOTHING TO WORK ON. Therefore, a logic-only system can only be 'empty' unless some initial axioms are justified by SOMETHING OTHER THAN reason (e.g., testimony of others, intuition, observation?--but notice that ALL THREE of these are part of the basis for the Christian message: the testimony of the apostles to the resurrection of Christ; the role of the conscience in communicating moral notions to us//the existence of 'other minds'; and observing fulfilled prophecy and changed lives in those who follow Christ)

 

3. Godel's theorem alone showed that all 'truths' could not be proven within any given system. Some--even mathematical and logical truths--are NOT provable. (Many higher level math 'truths' still escape proof--why would we think difficult areas like 'life' would be any easier?)

 

4. Logic requires unambiguous terms, and real life doesn't consist of those. Consider things that affect us as persons: justice, consciousness, fear, hope, despair, companionship, authenticity, loyalty, moral choices, identity groups, significance...even "truth" or "certainty" cannot be defined very precisely...Logic works mostly in bi-valued systems (but life is multi-valued: is hate the opposite of love, or is apathy/no-feeling the opposite of love?)...Life is too fuzzy and robust and dense and thick to work well in highly-precise syllogisms...Most of the stuff you can speak clearly about in formal logic is irrelevant to humanity's deepest needs.

 

This is just off the top of my head, friend, and like I say their definition of  "reason" might be completely different...But if it is, make SURE they aren't switching meanings on you in the middle of an argument...To apply the rigor of logic/reason to an argument that is more 'I think this is reasonable' is to commit the fallacy of equivocation...

 

I hope this gets you started and helps some, but again, they could very easily be 'redefining the term' without it being obvious...make sure you get them to define their terms and then stick with those definitions…

 

best wishes,

glenn

 


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