Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A quote about reason

that I got here. I'll maybe talk about it more when I have a minute:
Within the architectonic assessment of his life, then, we should acquit Lewis of having failed to carry through the refutation of scientific materialism as a pervasive threat to our humanity; but so far as the Riddell lectures go, it is something that needs to be done, if man is not to be abolished, but is to be rehabilitated and restored. The argument he had adduced a year earlier, and laid out more fully in Miracles, needs itself to be revived, if Lewis's main purpose is to be achieved. That argument was a special case of a general line of attack on a philosopher arguing for an irrationalist position, that in arguing for it, he is appealing to a rationality whose existence he is seeking to deny. He is sawing off the branch on which he is sitting; his arguing belies the conclusion he is arguing for. The Marxists in my youth used to explain away my rejection of their views as merely the articulation of my class interest, but felt I was playing foul when I pointed out that they were espousing Marxism only because, as would- be apparatchiks, it was in their class interest to do so. Freud hit many of my contemporaries around the age of adolescence, and they had an easy task diagnosing all the neuroses and inhibitions that prevented me from acknowledging the truth of Freud's teaching, but did not like it when I counter-diagnosed them. They said, as did also the Marxists, that I ought to take their arguments seriously. But if arguments can be taken seriously, then we are not the completely irrational playthings of our class interests or childhood repressions, as they were claiming. If I can be argued with, I am not just the creature of circumstance, but a rational autonomous agent, altogether different from, and something more than, the account given by the ism in question.18 It is the same with Logical Positivism. I used to embarrass my tutor, after he had been propounding the Verification Principle---that every meaningful proposition must be either an analytic tautology or a synthetic truth founded on sense- experience---by asking into which class the Verification Principle itself fell, and then, after showing it could be accommodated in neither, concluding that it must itself bemeaningless too. It is the same with subjectivism. If the subjectivist opines that subjectivism is true, I thank him for the expression of his state of mind, and hope he feels better for having given vent to his opinion. When he then boils over and says that I ought to think likewise, I rub his nose in the non-subjectivity of that utterance.

Of course, in practice the argument usually goes on longer: it takes some dialectical skill to get hold of a philosopher's nose firmly enough to rub it in anything, even the folly of his own stated views. But the strategy of argument is clear. Suitably modified, it would apply to any world-view that made out man to be not in any way subject to reason.19 Although it would not prove that such a doctrine must be false or could not be held, it would show that it could not be argued for or rationally held, and the very fact that someone argued in its favour would be strong evidence that he did not really believe it. Lewis had here an argument by means of which he could obtain purchase on a radically different metaphysical system, and argue from both inside and outside it for its own untenability. Contrary to the teaching of Collingwood, metaphysics is not just the articulation of the absolute presuppositions of the age, and contrary to Kuhn's later account of paradigm shifts in science, there is room for rational debate about, and rational choice between, different over-arching views of reality, and our adoption of one rather than another is not just a matter of sociological happenstance---influential though sociological factors sometimes are---but can aspire to be guided by reason.
And finally a key feature in the dialectic against the proponent of Nothing-Buttery is the integration of theoretical and practical reason. People show their rationality primarily in what they do, and their engaging in the activity of arguing shows that they do not really believe that reason is impossible. Reason is being construed more widely than it was by Hume and his successors. It is not just deductive and inductive argument, but is shown whenever we argue about what we ought to do or believe. Lewis is inclined to take a narrower view. He takes, as we have seen, a low view of scientists, and fails to appreciate the extent to which they are moved by the disinterested desire for knowledge, by the intellectual love of God. Their theoretical reasonings are not just a calculation of means and ends, nor a completely separate activity unconnected with practical action, but something done for its own sake that informs their whole life and guides them in all their doing---a form of worship. Lewis's strictures were less than just, less than the truth. And once we recognise that there is not a fundamental divorce between theoretical and practical reasoning, but that they are all of a piece, and that the decisions about what to believe are like decisions about what to do, we are able to apply the self-referential argument, and argue from our activity in arguing about what the world is like to the falsity of those world-views which would deny our status as rational agents, capable of making up our minds for ourselves, and seeking what is reasonable and right. And in recognising the unity of thought and action, we return to the foundation of the Riddell Lectures, founded in memory of one who ``was active for the rest of his life in public affairs; a quiet philanthropist whose devout Christian faith was borne out by his concern for others''; and equally we are at home in Durham, where always on the peninsula the Cathedral and Castle have stood together, with a strong sense of the need for action if civilisation is to be sustained in the face of the barbarian invader, but an ever- present recognition that the values we seek to put into effect in our actions are values that are not the creations of our own wills, but derive their validity ultimately from God.

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