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Thursday, April 18, 2019

On Reason

Brand Blanshard begins his book Reason & Analysis with the following perspective on the concept of ‘reason’:

"Unfortunately it means many things. For the philosopher it commonly denotes the faculty and function of grasping necessary connections. The function is seen in its most obvious form in
reasoning, in the deductions, for example, of the logician and the mathematician. This may be taken as the narrowest and nuclear meaning of the term. But there radiate out from it a large number of subsidiary meanings. Reason for many writers shows itself not only in the linkage of propositions, but also in the grasp of single truths, provided these are necessary truths; the insight that two straight lines cannot enclose a space would be as truly an insight of reason as any demonstration in Euclid. Sometimes the meaning of reason and cognate terms is further extended to include reasonings that are less than necessary, such as inferences from past to future. Mr Ayer writes: ‘for us, “being rational" entails being guided in a particular way by past experience’; and Mr. Feigl goes as far as to say: the procedure of induction, therefore, far from being irrational, defines the very essence of rationality.’ Sometimes reason is broadened again to describe the sceptical and reflective turn of mind generally. For Hobhouse it is ‘that which requires proofs for assertions, causes for effects, purposes for action, principles for conduct, or, to put it generally, thinks in terms of grounds and consequences. Reason in the widest sense of all, says Thomas Whittaker, is the relational element in intelligence, in distinction from the element of content, sensational or emotional,' and he points out that both the Greek term [Greek] and the Latin ratio, from which reason has largely drawn its meaning, were sometimes used to denote simply ‘relation or ‘order’."

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