Aryayeshu Singh IBDP 1B
The Strengths and Weaknesses of Reason as a WOK
Reason is a paradoxical entity with many of its most basic attributes being both its strength and weakness depending upon the situation in which they are applied which is again both a vulnerable flaw and a spectacular strength. Reason differentiates knowers from perceivers.
“Applying the human faculty of reason to the pursuit of knowledge, properly defined, reveals the limitations within which we must work: We cannot achieve knowledge of things—such as infinity or substantial real essences—for which we lack clear, positive ideas. Indeed, having ideas will not be enough to secure knowledge if—as in the case of human actions—they are obscure, confused, or imperfect. Given faulty memories, we may also fail to achieve knowledge because we are incapable of tracing long chains of reasoning through which two ideas might be demonstrably linked. In a more practical vein, rational knowledge cannot be established upon false principles—such as those borrowed from conventional wisdom. Finally—in the effort to achieve philosophical or scientific certainty—our efforts to employ reason are commonly undermined by the misuse or abuse of language.” – This is an extract from David Hume’s work regarding the fallibility of reason. The extract clearly enlists the scepticisms limitations as to how knowledge can be contaminated if reason is applied in a wrong sense or if it entails wrong premises.
Although the extent to which we rely at a probable proposition should depend upon the amount of the evidence in its favour, Locke argued that we often fluctuate our judgment merely with reference to our faulty memories of past experience. It is both natural and practically necessary to rely upon the retention of past experience rather than modifying our believes every moment, it is a dangerous practice, because the propositions we acquire through judging are bound to remain genuinely uncertain. Since the supposed relation between the ideas is founded only upon our present estimation of the available evidence, it is always possible in principle that the discovery of additional information in the future may lead us to overthrow or abandon a past judgment, as can never happen with truly demonstrative knowledge.
Reason can be fundamentally flawed because since it’s a way of processing things we already know together in order to form a conclusion. Just the fact that we’ve applied reason to a subject doesn’t make it the truth at all because of a basic error: our original facts. One can use reason to say A and B are related. Therefore A then B. …but if A and B’s relation itself isn’t true, reason is fundamentally limited by the fact it has to rely on its validity. A could be ‘grass is green’ and B could be ‘all green things are aliens’…. therefore all grass is an alien? Basic error!
Reason generally isn’t the winner of the human condition. Perception, emotion etc. are always mingled with reason, and reason simply doesn’t function properly if it’s skewed in some way by another Way of Knowing because it requires that its original precepts A and B are correct. Using reason to learn shared knowledge is again flawed, all thanks to something called as the backfire effect. The knowledge we hold right now depends on our acceptability of the idea. Hence, every person has got his/her own version of knowledge on a particular topic, not because of perspective but because of its acceptability to us. Instead of applying reason or critical thinking to these versions of knowledge we basically are applying our own biased reason as well as emotions to back it up. According to Psychology, each part of our ‘justified belief’ is a part of our identity and when reason and critical thinking is employed to change or alter it, the person feels ‘attacked’ and try’s his/her best to protect their identity – this is called as Identity Protective Cognition. Hence individuals back up these beliefs with emotions. The conclusion is, reason lacks the ability to convince us against our own so-called ‘justified belief’.
“It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.”
Bertrand Russell (1950)
Absolute reason is something impossible to be found in human knowledge since humans are complex, biased, and emotional creatures and logic and reasoning are always mixed with these factors. Emotion can affect the way we perceive objects represented by artistic creations better than Reason can. Example – Painting ‘Guernica’ by Picasso conveys his anti-war sentiments – this is mainly perceived by the viewers because the painting affects our emotion (inspire sadness, disgust of war etc); this can be far more powerful in e.g. turning someone into a pacifist than a book can by talking reason into him/her. Thus Reason as a WOK is limited in this instance.
All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of cause and effect. By means of that relation alone we can go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses. A man finding a watch or any other machine in a desert island, would conclude that there had once been men on that island. All our reasonings concerning fact are of the same nature. And here it is constantly supposed that there is a connection between the present fact and that which is inferred from it. Were there nothing to bind them together, the inference would be entirely precarious. If we anatomise all the other reasonings of this nature, we shall find that they are founded on the relation of cause and effect, and that this relation is either near or remote, direct or collateral. Relation between two variables does not mean causation is a golden rule for Psychology students. Heat and light are collateral effects of fire, and the one effect may justly be inferred from the other.
“All knowledge degenerates into probability.”
Using the above line of reasoning as a stepping-stone, Hume then presented a shocking argument. Reflection on our natural fallibility shows us that we shouldn’t even trust our reasoning in everyday life; if we follow the argument, we will see that we actually have no justified beliefs at all. Hume thinks the arguments of each stage are epistemically related-accepting the first argument should lead one to accept the second.
Reason drives our search for patterns and exceptions, which may be used to create models and even predictions in a range of disciplines. Other ways of knowing, such as intuition, partly originate from reason. However, despite reason’s apparent strengths when it comes to knowledge production, we should also consider its limitations. Einstein once claimed that being logical and thinking are not the same thing. As is illustrated below, correct deductive reasoning can lead us to preserve the truth, but it does not really provide a source of truth as such. Inductive reasoning could give us to ‘more knowledge’, but could lead to hasty generalisations if applied incorrectly. When we see patterns that actually don’t exist, we could draw incorrect knowledge maps. These may need to be revised later on. If you consider the historical development of knowledge within a discipline, you will probably find several examples of hasty generalisations which are at the root of the creation of delusional patterns (and knowledge maps).
Lateral thinking is also something which at first seems illogical yet (often) in hindsight becomes logical. It is creative thinking which does not merely follow the most logical steps to reach an answer. For example a suggested solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East was to ship vast amounts of Marmite to the area. This seems utterly senseless, as surely holding talks and making agreements between the two sides would be the best steps forward .However, on examining the idea further it becomes logical, if creative! In the typical diet of people in the Middle Eastern area there is a lack of zinc due to the main diet of unleavened bread. This lack of zinc creates aggression. Marmite contains a lot of zinc and therefore could be used to solve the problem in the Middle East. Whilst this solution does not seem reasonable it would work and so shows that reason is not always the best policy.
To conclude reason as a way of knowing has both strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses are that a difference of opinion means that people will reason differently too making it an irregular method of making decisions and acquiring knowledge. Reason may also not be the best policy as more creative solutions may be better which can be derived through lateral thinking. Also logical fallacies call into question the validity of reason as they produce false results through logical steps. As well as this we cannot answer some fundamental questions through reason.
Contestably, reasoning also has its assets as a Way of Knowing. An interesting tool used in human reasoning is the ability of introspection where someone reasons their own reasoning as a cognitive process of searching for reasons for certain feelings, actions or beliefs. This process is given quite a substantial focus in psychology where research is often carried out on human reasoning and the motives behind it. It is also very important for people to be able to evaluate themselves and to try to understand their own beliefs and tendencies. The only way for this to be accomplished is through a thought process, dealing with introspection and reasoning with one’s self. Reasoning plays a important part in the professional world, it is a crucial indicator in the scientific Area of Knowledge.
For instance, in cognitive science and artificial intelligence “the complexity and efficacy of reasoning is the inevitable component of cognitive decision-making”. Generally, the sciences, as an area of knowledge, depend on reasoning a great deal. In many processes and experiments carried out in this field, a scientist will discover or prove a hypothesis and then resort to reasoning to apply it in various circumstances to establish its validity. Scientific experiment and historical knowledge are two very good examples of how reason cannot be changed and is therefore very valuable as it allows us to have consistency with our knowledge.