Reason in Philosophy

Reason is one of the mental faculties of humans. We also have other mental faculties, such as our emotions, our intuitions, and our aesthetic senses.

I perceive a systematic bias in the Western intellectual climate towards reason. We are pro-reason, anti-emotions, and anti-intuitions. In our intellectual climate, people who show emotions are “biased;” people who use intuitions are “vague,” “unclear,” or “sloppy thinkers.”

The excessively rationalistic attitude is not only a feature of our intellectual climate; I think it is also a feature of individuals. I think that different individuals tend to use different mental faculties.

There are emotional people, who have rich and complicated emotional lives, who usually interpret situations in terms of feelings, and who rely on their feelings in making decisions.

There are intellectual people, who have rich and complicated intellectual lives, who usually interpret situations in terms of logic, and who rely on logic in making their decisions.

These divisions, of course, are not sharp or absolute. They point out a general pattern, a general feature of the landscape of possible psychologies, rather than a precise categorization.

When people rely on different mental faculties, they have different cares and interests, and they have different mental processes. They usually have difficulty understanding each other.

The rationalist is somebody who is entirely enamored with the intellect. They are so fascinated with reason and ideas that they mostly ignore everything else. And it is just this type of person who populates our intellectual climate, and just this type of person who is usually attracted to philosophy.

The rationalist tends to believe that reason is superior to emotions or intuitions. Emotions are irrational; intuitions are vague and unreliable.

It is essential to my position that these different mental faculties are on roughly equal footing: that there are whole dimensions of rich and valuable mental functioning outside of reason.

Emotions can contain as much richness, variety, depth, and interest as the intellect; and that the same is true of intuitions, aesthetics, etc. This is a plain fact to anybody who relies on these mental faculties a lot. It does not feel like a fact to the rationalist; but that is the very nature of his blindness.

To a great extent I count myself among the rationalists. It is much easier for me to find depth and richness in reason than in other things. But I am unbiased enough to recognize that I am biased. I am unbiased enough to be aware of a great deal of profundity standing outside reason. And I realize that I am missing out on further profundity like it.

I think that the best approach to philosophy involves the use of all of our various faculties: our reason, our emotions, our intuitions, our aesthetics. Such an approach necessarily sacrifices some reasonableness. The rationalist approach to philosophy optimizes heavily for reasonableness, and sacrifices emotional/intuitive/aesthetic sense. Since it is hard to optimize for all of these qualities simultaneously, optimizing for the other qualities will mean optimizing less for reasonableness.

I think that in the end I will wind up looking to a lot of people like I am anti-reason. I think that I am not anti-reason; rather, I think that the prevailing climate is so biased towards reason that moderation looks like bias against reason.

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