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For other senses of this word, see reason (disambiguation).
In the philosophy of arguments, reason is the ability of the human mind to form and operate on concepts in abstraction, in varied accordance with rationality and logic —terms with which reason shares heritage. Reason has traditionally been claimed as distinctly human, and not to be found elsewhere in the animal world. Discussion and debate about the nature, limits and causes of reason could almost be said to define the main lines of historical philosophical discussion and debate. Discussion about reason especially concerns:
(a) its relationship to several other related concepts: language, logic, consciousness etc,
(b) its ability to help people decide what is true, and
(c) its origin.
Also see practical reason and speculative reason.
The concept of reason is connected to the concept of language, as reflected in the meanings of the Greek word "logos", later to be translated by Latin "ratio" and then French "raison", from which the English word derived. As reason, rationality, and logic are all associated with the ability of the human mind to predict effects as based upon presumed causes, the word "reason" also denotes a ground or basis for a particular argument, and hence is used synonymously with the word "cause."
1 Reason and logic
2 Reason, truth, and “first principles”
3 Reason, language and mimesis
4 Reason, truth, and emotion or passion
5 Reason and faith, especially in the “Greater West”
7 See also
8 External links
Reason and logic
It is sometimes said that the contrast between reason and logic extends back to the time of Plato and Aristotle. Indeed, although they had no separate Greek word for logic as opposed to language and reason, Aristotle's neologism "syllogism" (syllogismos) identified logic clearly for the first time as a distinct field of study: the most peculiarly reasonable ("logikê" ) part of reasoning, so to speak.
No philosopher of any note has ever argued that logic is the same as reason. They are generally thought to be distinct, although logic is one important aspect of reason. But the tendency to a preference for "hard logic," or "solid logic," in modern times has incorrectly led to the two terms occasionally being seen as essentially synonymous (see Reasoning) or perhaps more often logic is seen as the defining and pure form of reason.
However machines and animals can unconsciously perform logical operations, and many animals (including humans) can unconsciously, associate different perceptions as causes and effects and then make decisions or even plans. Therefore, to have any distinct meaning at all, “reason” must be the type of thinking which links language, consciousness and logic, and at this time, only humans are known to combine these things.
Although this is an old discussion, the neurologist Terrence Deacon, following the tradition of Peirce, has recently given a useful new description in modern terms. Like many philosophers in the English traditions such as Hobbes, Locke and Hume, he starts by distinguishing the type of thinking which is most essential to human rational thinking as a type of associative thinking. Reason by his account therefore requires associating perceptions in a way which may be arbitrary (or nominal, conventional or "formal" ) - not just associating the image or "icon" of smoke and the image of fire, but, for example, the image of smoke and the English word "smoke", or indeed any made-up symbol (not necessarily a spoken word). What is essential is however not the arbitrariness of symbols, but how they are used. See below concerning Reason and Language.
Reason, truth, and “first principles”
Already in classical times a conflict between the Platonists and the Aristotelians developed about reason's role in confirming truth. Both Aristotle and Plato were aware of this as a question all philosophy must consider. On the one hand people use logical syllogisms such as deduction and induction in order to come to conclusions they feel are more infallible than our basic sense perceptions. On the other hand, if such conclusions are only built upon sense perceptions, then our most logical conclusions can never be said to be certain because they are built upon fallible perceptions (or fallible interpretations of perceptions). So given the impression that we are sometimes certain, as well as the desire to be certain, the question arises as to the source of our first principles. Is it only experience as claimed in “empiricist” arguments (associated by some as being more Aristotelian, and more recently with British philosophers such as David Hume) or is there some other “faculty” from which we derive our consciousness of at least some “a priori” truths (a position called “idealist” and associated with Platonism)
In Greek, “first principles” are arkhai and the faculty used to perceive them is sometimes referred to in Aristotle and Plato as “nous” which was close in meaning to “awareness” and therefore “consciousness”. This leaves open the question of whether we become aware by building up and comparing experiences, or some other way.
Modern proponents of a priori reasoning, at least with regards to language, are Noam Chomsky and Stephen Pinker, to whom Merlin Donald and Terrence Deacon can be very usefully contrasted. One well-known modern variant of empiricism is Objectivism.
Reason, language and mimesis
The recent writings of Deacon and Donald fit into an older tradition which makes reason connected to language, and mimesis, but more specifically the ability to create language as part of an internal modelling of reality specific to humankind. Other results are consciousness, and imagination or fantasy.
Thomas Hobbes describes the creation of “Markes, or Notes of remembrance” (Leviathan Ch.4) as “speech” (allowing by his definition that it is not necessarily a means of communication or speech in the normal sense; he was presumably thinking of "speech" as an English version of "logos" in this description). In the context of a language, these marks or notes are called "Signes" by Hobbes.
David Hume, following John Locke (and Berkeley), who followed Hobbes, emphasized the importance of associative thinking.
Concerning mimesis and fantasy being important in defining reason, see for example Aristotle's Poetics, De Anima, On Dreams, and On Memory and Recollection (and for example the Introduction by Michael Davis, printed with the 2002 translation by him and Seth Benardete of the Poetics), Jacob Klein’s A Commentary on the Meno Ch.5, and Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories".
Reason, truth, and emotion or passion
In literature, reason is often opposed to emotions or feelings, and desires, drives or passions. Others see reason as the servant or tool of these things -- the means of sorting out our desires and then getting what we want. Some would say however that many of the key philosophers of history (e.g. Plato, Rousseau, Hume, Nietzsche) have combined both views - making rational thinking not only a tool of desires, but also something which is itself desired, not only because of its usefulness in satisfying other desires.
At the same time, reason sometimes clearly seems to come into conflict with some desires (even while not being in conflict with others) giving us the impression that reason is separate from emotion. Only in humans, choices are sometimes made on the basis of an association of ideas which is an artificially constructed model, rather than an un-inspected association based on raw experience, and this “feels” different to when one is won over by a passion supported by raw “feeling”. The opposite is also unique – we sometimes feel that a passion has won over our decision-making “unjustly”, despite having lost its argument, or perhaps (in the case, for example, of a reflex action) not even having been a subject of argument before the action took place.
The question of whether reason is in fact driven by emotions is important for philosophers because reason is seen by almost all philosophers as being the way that we come to know the truth, and we see the truth as something which exists outside of our own consciousness. If reason is driven by emotions, then how can we ever know that we are not deceiving ourselves about what is true by denying undesirable information in favor of a more pleasing construct of our world? Nietzsche was particularly moved by this question.
A potential argument against this is that one's desire for an objective truth is greater than their desire to believe what is convenient regardless of the falsehood of their belief. Further, if one's reason acts as a means of sorting out one's desires, and one could separate their desires into two categories, less intense, short-term desires which could be regarded as "lower" desires, and more powerful, long-term desires which could be regarded as "higher" desires. From there, through reasoning one could determine that having knowledge, regardless of whether or not it produces pleasure itself, is useful in achieving the satisfaction of one's higher desires. At any rate, it is likely that one conception of truth is developed on part at an unconcsious level, as opposed to being completely determined by conscious reasoning.
Reason and faith, especially in the “Greater West”
In theology, reason, as distinguished from faith, is the human critical faculty exercised upon religious truth whether by way of discovery or by way of explanation. Some commentators have claimed that Western civilization can be almost defined by its serious testing of the limits of tension between “unaided” reason and faith in "revealed" truths - figuratively ...