Reason

He [John] turned to Reason and spoke.

“Tell me, good lady. Is there such a place as the Island in the West, or is it only a feeling in my own mind?”

“I cannot tell you,” said she, “because you do not know.”

“But you know.”

“But I can tell you only what you know. I can bring things out of the dark part of your mind into the light part of it. But now you ask me what is not even in the dark part of your mind.”

“Even if it were only a feeling in my mind, would it be a bad feeling?”

“I have nothing to tell you of good or bad.”

Most people with a background in western spirituality will have read, or at least have heard, of the book by John Bunyan called The Pilgrim’s Progress. But in the 20th century, a similar but no less great book came out called The Pilgrim’s Regress. It is an allegorical story of a man named John whose spiritual journey that started with him having faith as child soon turns to doubt and then to rejection of his faith. Most of the story is about what he encountered on his journey to understand life afterwards.

There is a good chance that most of us will grow up in a household where one or both of our parents are religious to some degree, or at least the sub-culture we find ourselves in is religious, and we just kind of adopt it as best we can and believe it to be true. However, those of us who are prone to thinking sooner or later must come to grips with the reality of this thing called religion. We must either adopt it as true with our new independent minds or throw it out and start on our own spiritual journey to find the truth. The author, C.S. Lewis, took the latter road, and so did the protagonist. This book is an autobiography of his spiritual journey – a journey from childhood religion to atheism to the real spiritual life.

Anyway, the quoted dialog above occurs in the book when John first meets Reason. She is a beautiful armored knight on horseback that has just saved him from the Giant of the Age. After seeing the Giant turn into a mountain, he at once feels a passing glimpse of something etheral, and it leaves him in tears. He turns to her and asks her to tell him if the spiritual realm of the Landlord is real, and her reply is what interests me the most: “I do not know, because you do not know.” (paraphrased)

This statement sums up the limits of reason. She is beautiful and invincible, but she can only be as useful as far as your knowledge goes – she can only help you within the framework of your worldview and the knowledge you possess. She works with your presuppositions and factual knowledge as her sword, and from there she is an agent in the process of achieving internal consistancy of your beliefs. As Epictitus states, the process of acquiring internal consistancy of beliefs will lead to spiritual serenity, or in the physical dimension, scientific consistancy. What if your worldview or knowledge is wrong? She can’t help you. What is good or bad? She can’t help you – the concepts of right or wrong are truths that you already believe in your presuppositions BEFORE Reason draws her sword. She is only a tool that in turn uses only the knowledge you possess and can remember. This doesn’t mean that Reason should be avoided. Biblically speaking, she is the best thing you can possibly possess – greater than wealth, fame, power, etc.

So we can see that reason is a key tool for the philosophically minded. But it does have limits. Can reason challenge our presuppositions (mainly thinking about our worldview), thus examining the very sword she uses to help us corral our other beliefs? Yes – but she can only act on knowledge – so if our presuppositions are to change, new knowledge must be acquired that signifigantly challanges them — and these new beliefs must hold great sway- we are all reasonable, so to change our worldview, a huge amount of repeated empirical evidence must sway us.

I could make the argument that reason is an act of the will, and its application and effect does not happen automatically. The beneficial effects of reason will be eroded and lost if it is not actively sought and used, and our default nature will take over, which as I have argued before, will lead to the very opposite of internal consistancy or of any benefit whatsoever.

So here is the truth of the situation as best as I can see it:

  1. Reason is pure and perfect – but it can only work within the confines of my worldview, my presuppositions, and current knowledge base to affect my beliefs.
  2. My worldview, presuppositions, and current knowledge base are all flawed. I do not possess perfect knowledge, so I will never be able to be perfectly apply reason to my beliefs.
  3. New knowledge is what feeds reason that fuels internal change of beliefs, and the alignment of other beliefs towards this new change.

Some thoughts come out of these 3 assumptions. Upholding reason as wonderful is like upholding a hammer as wonderful. It can build great buildings, but it is only a tool in and of itself. Its usefulness is most effective in a person who willfully uses it and constantly seeks new knowledge to give it to work with, and at the same time uses it to align current beliefs. It is by nature a potential, not a kinetic, entity. My self-destructive nature, its antithesis, is a kinetic entity.

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