“So even during the Enlightenment, the supposed heyday of rationality, the very idea of reason was hotly contested. So it’s not entirely surprising that it may still be contested today, in what may be shaping up to be another period perhaps dominated by new and powerful forces of unreason. Clearly, there is lots to sort out here and we’d love to have your help in thinking through it all.”
Kenneth Taylor from PhilosophyTalk.org in “Can Reason Save Us?”
It sounds so reasonable to say that people should be reasonable, but there are two problems: 1. Not everybody agrees on the definition of and the criteria for reasonableness. 2. Sometimes, we use reason as a mere instrument for questionable desires.
So, rational ways of knowing can be effective, but they’re not foolproof. That’s what got me thinking about my hexagonal-perspectival diagram of ways of knowing in the first place. Some thinkers have developed approaches to knowing that are deeply suspicious of all claims to knowledge (e.g., hermeneutics of suspicion). Others have rightly asserted the need for empirical observations and testing as a balance to rational systems of thought. Yet other approaches to knowing, including intuitive views, personal or existential views, and pragmatic views come into play as alternatives to some imagined purely rational approach.
Cautions about rational ways of knowing can also apply to the other perspectives, and I’ll likely have more to say about this as I continue this series.
Meanwhile, I nominate Arnold Kling’s book The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides with the following passage as an excellent source for helping us think better about and behave better with our political discourse during election season and beyond:
One of my prescriptions for slow political thinking is to try to avoid telling yourself, “I’m reasonable, they’re not.” Instead, I would suggest the following rule of thumb.
The only person you are qualified to pronounce unreasonable is yourself.
You are qualified to tell other people that they are wrong. You are just not qualified to tell other people that they are unreasonable.(Kling 70)
I’m also reflecting much these days on two other good books that explore more cautious approaches to reasoning and knowing:
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt
How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, by Alan Jacobs
Coming soon: Empirical ways of knowing…