Beyond the Realm of Reason: The strengths and weakness of reason as a way of knowing Following the Western philosophical and scientific Enlightenment, reason as a method of inquiry and knowledge gaining came to dominate in all realms of life from the scientific method as a way of testing a hypothesis through deductive reasoning to the inductive nature of epistemology. But where does reason reach its limits and what types of things can we not know through this paradigm? This brief essay will explore both the strengths and the weaknesses of what we have come to learn through our powers of reason and logic.The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant termed the bounds of reason a paradigm.
By this he meant that reason, as a practiced discipline in all fields of knowledge, represents a particular view of the world. A paradigm is a lens through which we can share knowledge with other people, but only with other people that recognize and are fluent in the specific paradigm we engage. His Critique of Enlightenment relied on reason as a way of explaining the limitations of reason – it was an immanent critique of reason – which means that his criticism was of reason through the use reason, or what has come to be known as a metaphysical critique. Kant’s paradigmatic viewpoint called for a paradigm shift that would open up new ways of learning and understanding the world that did not solely rely on our mental processes of reason (both inductive and deductive) in a way that called our very knowledge of the world into question.
Other philosophers and scientists were struggling with this very concept but with different motivations. For example, Rene Descartes, known as the Father of Modern Philosophy, was both a philosopher and a medical practitioner. He used reason to try to explain the workings of the human body. His Discourse on Method utilized reason to describe the way he imagined the inner workings of the human heart.
Through this exploration Descartes came up with the famous Cartesian Dualism through the dictum, Cogito Ergo Sum: I think, therefore I am. His theory held that we are physically separate beings from our bodies and that our mind alone has the power to continue existing after our body has failed through the vessel of our soul.Western philosophy has struggled with the Cartesian Dualism ever since. The notion of a mind-in-a-vat metaphor that continues living its own life regardless of the presence of a physical body was purely an object of philosophical and scientific reason, but it was simply Descartes’ hypothesis and has never in the course of history been proven to be true.
Reason as a paradigm could only take us this far. Epistemology, along with religion, politics, science, and other realms of knowledge are now concerning themselves with the nature of how we know what we know. In trying to bridge this (un)reasonable gap, many disparate factions have come up with new methods of inquiry into reality itself. In fact, Western philosophy as a discourse is being called into question for just this reason as critical theory, Eastern philosophy and Native American spirituality have gained prominence as a critique of Enlightenment.
The march of progress in the post-industrial age has changed the way humans interact and exist. Bounds of knowledge are becoming further specialized in all fields of academia and industry. Increasingly technical jargon is replacing the general communicational purpose of language and people are finding their paradigms to be both deeper and more isolated than ever before. Scientists now speak in nano-technology, biodiversity, double-helixes, and genetics while philosophy deals with metaphysics, discourse, and semiotics.
Instead of bridging gaps between various fields of inquiry, humans, especially in the West, are almost literally speaking different languages even while working toward a common goal.French cultural theorist Michel Foucault called this idea discourse. Discourse, in simple terms, is all we have. It is the way we describe something, the way we become educated, the clothes we buy, the food we eat, the science we do, and the stories we tell.
In short, we cannot escape discourse. That being said, discursive practices are both binding and creating at the same time. Discourse calls us into question through forces of power that we shape the shifting patterns of life. For Foucault, this means that paradigms based on reason are productive forces that have the capacity to create new forms of knowledge and he used this process to critique the way Western philosophy has treated some of its most neglected and subordinated populations, such as prisons, mental institutions, sexual and political ideology, and the military-industrial complex.
In attempting to go beyond a particular paradigm, Foucault utilized an interdisciplinary approach to history that he termed genealogy.A genealogy goes beyond the realm of reason because it incorporates the various disciplines that have combined to produce reason in the first place. Cold rational thought has been shown to be a myth that has been used as a method of control and domestication. Reason does not offer us a valid explanation of why people do not always act in rational manners, as any economist will begin any discussion.
People are driven by rhetoric and can use to a certain extent, but we are now beyond the realm of reason. Psychology knows this all to well as do sociologists. The notoriously famed psychologist Sigmund Freud extensively studied how people act out of both their rational conscious but more of than not are driven deeper by the impulses and desires born of their subconscious – how else can we explain the visions of flying or dying while dreaming? In sociology, we can look at how group dynamics affect the behavior of otherwise rational beings, take for instance the impact of peer pressure on younger people to experiment with drugs and sex even though they have been taught the inherent dangers in such activities.Reason has gotten us this far, but where will it take us in the future? That is the question that lies at the heart of modern science and philosophy.
As organized religion and the belief in the supernatural are being discredited by the stiff empiricism of hard science, cultural theorists are critiquing science itself for inventing the truth out of subjective experimentation. We are literally inventing the next realm of reason that will incorporate reason but not solely depend on it. Computers and technology are already working on that and it won’t be long before we have a cloned human being that may or may not possess the power to think reasonably.