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The Limits of the Rational

June 12, 2013

For someone of a philosophical temperament you may think it strange for me to be talking of the limits of reason. I value argumentation, discussion and the correct use of logic. These are all important to correct reasoning, and to ensuring we stay focused on the subject-matter at hand, rather than the mere forceful asserting of our own beliefs, desires and opinions.

But there are a few types of rationality that go too far. Creating a fetish of the rational. An obsessive, compulsive and narrow minded application of one method to all problems and all fields. We see this with some of the reductionist errors of trying to reduce one subject-matter to another. The reduction of society to the psychology of its members. The reduction of the mind to the material from which it is formed, or to the behavior it exhibits, or the function it performs. We also see it with the free-market capitalists, who are so confident in the rationality of individualism and the division of labor, that they would happily make us all powerless to plan our society and choose the values for our society, beyond merely all competing with each other pursuing our selfish interests, becoming more and more materialistic. Then there is some of the psychological approaches to changing our mentalities, self-help books, Scientology. They speak with such certitude in their rationality, it is creepy, to the point of them being a dangerous cult, brainwashing their members.

It is in these kinds of areas where rationality seems to have hit some limits to its ability to stay centered and connected with truth. I am all for the use of correct reasoning and taking control of our lives through the use of rationality. There is much to be said for this. But we do have to remember that rationality is not a fail-safe method. With all methods we need to be open to change in light of experience of the world, and perception of truths. I worry that an obsession with a particular type of rational method is blinding and brainwashing a number of people into a false sense of certainty. So lets try to bear these limitations in mind. Rationality is not a procedure we can simply follow through automatically and successfully all the time. It is a human faculty we draw upon. And like all things human it has its limitations and areas of weakness we need to make ourselves aware of.

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