Saturday, January 13, 2024

595 Rational or reasonable

 The ages of reason and Enlightenment, in the 17th and 18th century, were obsessed by reason. Following Descartes, people saw body and mind as separate. Ideal knowledge was context-independent, with universal truths, as in geometry. The body was part of chaotic, variable nature and not a respectable subject for science. Emotions overturned reason, and were to be avoided, to maintain objectivity and ‘clear and distinct ideas’, as Descartes called them

 There was a revival of 16th century humanism in the second half of the 20th century, which was more sceptical of the certain knowledge that science had claimed to offer, and appreciated the context-dependence and practical use of knowledge, which made room for the sciences of the human being and society. Emotions came to be seen as indispensable in human life, and even as embedded in the brain. Attention to practical affairs did still lag behind dominant theory.

 A humanistic perspective is critical of exclusive reason, and recognizes the inevitability and value of emotions, but does not proclaim irrationality. It offers being reasonable instead of only rational. It still appreciates logic and facts, but recognises their dependence on history and context. One can still practice and use science, but with scepsis. Science can be useful, but must make an effort to show that, and must recognise that it is based on presumptions or axioms that can be debated and can change in time. An example is Einstein’s theories trumping that of Newton. Attention to circumstances and background in human conduct is needed in ethical and moral judgement, where Aristotle called it ‘phronesis’, as discussed before, in this blog. Ethical and moral rules are seldom absolute and universal. An exception may be human rights.

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