Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Rationalising Reason

Immanuel Kant is not the easiest to read or understand, but he does raise rather interesting points when it comes to how reason does fail us at times. When two opposing sides give apparently equally compelling reasons for their cases, there must be something wrong there. The point that springs to mind is Catholic v Protestant - a deadlock about the Truth. It can only be a leap of Faith (to throw Kierkegaard into the mix) to accept one of the positions.

Ed Pacht has always played the Ubertino Da Cassale to my more scholastic leanings. We both see the limits of Reason in different ways. He reasons with the mind  of a poet, I sing with the heart of a mathematician. It's amazing how we draw the same conclusions from different approaches!

One criticism that I noticed of my previous post, is that people reject the whole necessity of reasoning. They prefer to abide by the Holy Mystery of Faith rather than the fides quaerens intellectum.

Of course that's not only a valid way of living one's life, it's recommended by saints such as St Bernard and writers such as Pseudo-Dionysius. In order to approach God, we must strip away every preconception, every means of logical deduction and enter a state of unknowing. It's something I've tried to do. But how does one talk about the Truth, or discuss it with others?

One way will be with poetry and allegory. The power of narrative is incredible and the words of Genesis gain their strength not from Science but from what it means to be human. The trouble is that not everyone sees the same thing. The inexpressible is indeed inexpressible. Well - duh! as my students will say. This can potentially lead to misunderstandings and disagreements about the nature of God and our relationship with Him on apparently subjective terms.

The rational approach gives precision and validity to the conclusions one draws. It lays the cards on the table and, if one accepts the premises and the means of inference, then one is bound by them to accept the conclusion. This indeed leaves very little wiggle-room for the colour in our lives. Further, we can use Reason to rationalise sinful behaviour.

If we openly oppose homosexual relationships then cold reason will say that we will be in the wrong if we engage in homosexual relationships even if we can rationalise them away. There have been clergymen who have hidden the fact that they are engaged in such a relationship, yet the facts that they live together and do everything together would seem to suggest otherwise. The observer cannot leap to the conclusion that such a relationship is any more than platonic because there is clearly not enough evidence to complete the chain of reasoning. However, neither can the clergyman truly square it in his conscience that he is not engaging in homosexual activity when he knows that he is. There will be a fault in the reasoning here and that flaw will be very much due to the nature of that sin and a desire not to be seen as a hypocrite. The trouble is that this very flaw can be well hidden. That's the trouble with Reason: one missing link in the chain, one hidden assumption, and the conclusion is no longer watertight.

If one lives by the Rulebook then one will die by the Rulebook. Yet if one lives purely by the heart, then everything can become subject to emotion, feeling, and whim. Reason gives structure to our understanding, Mystery gives it a colour and depth to approach the unimaginable. Neither one rules the other unnecessary; neither one can destroy the other. That's the beauty of being human. The Pastoral dimension is strengthened by Canon, and Canon is softened by the Pastoral. The priest has the unenviable task of trying to be both.

Thank God for poets and scholastics!

1 comment:

ed pacht said...

My thesis is always that there is a balance to be sought, and that carrying anything all the way to its logical conclusion will inevitably draw ones attention away from something equally true that doesn't fit. It is frequently so that two things that appear contradictory are in actuality both true, and that our logic is simply insufficient to bring definition.
Scripture AND Tradition - Faith AND Reason - Faith AND Works - Predestination AND Freewill - Bread AND Body - Christ as God AND Man - God as One AND Three - Reason AND Emotion.
In all these cases (and others, including many in the physical sciences) seeming opposites are both true, and the way in which they interact or coexist is not readily apparent - perhaps beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend. Even so, the minds which God has given us are permitted, and even required, to seek deeper understanding - though never to insist that our conclusions are truly right.