What is “reason”? Dr. Bahnsen made a great point several years ago about the mass equivocation on the subject of “reason.” It’s a common word, used by everyone, yet at the same time it’s one of the most ambiguous words to define. What Hume thought reason was, was vastly different from what Plato thought “logos” meant. So what is reason? If “faith” contrary to, or in league with reason, or is faith the only rational position to hold? Who is right? There are different dialectics and possibilities in regard to this question, and thus different pitfalls to be avoided. As a student of philosophy, science and theology, I intend to offer insights on this question.
Two easy pitfalls to avoid are fideism and rationalism. These are two sides of the same coin, with both schools proffering an all-encompassing answer that falls on one or the other side. For fideists, the divine is wholly irrational and beyond comprehension. Since the divine is essentially something experienced by the individual and his own piety (supposedly), fideism has tended towards pietism, superstition and irrationalism. Fideism is thus very anti-world, and anti-intellectual, viewing creation, reason and intellect as dangerous potential enemies to the idea of God. Fideism is an immature, childish position, which is a common feature among cults and sects of all stripes, allowing for the void of objective truth or reasoning to be filled with the imposition of the de facto, unquestioned claims of the “prophet” or sectarian hierophant.
Likewise, the rationalist sees reason and logic as the sole and final authority. For the rationalist, “reason” is a self-evident, objective standard anyone and everyone may potentially tap into to judge all matters. In short, whatever cannot be measured, counted, analyzed and dissected, cannot be rationally accepted. It is, as Guenon says, the reign of quantity. Yet early rationalism had a peculiar feature that later western rationalism did not. Early rationalism in thinkers like Plato up to Descartes and Leibniz preferred the Ideal as the real. Since reason was truth, and truth is unchanging, the Ideal must be the truth, and the realm of flux deceptive. Yet reason itself is not something that can, so to speak, “get outside itself.” When empiricism and Darwinism gained the ascendancy, any notion of an Ideal was tossed out, since it could not be accessed through sense experience, and since Darwinism “proved” that all is flux and change. Continue reading