Reason and It’s Other

This is an outline of my talk for the Sixth Annual Aquinas Leadership International Congress on May 3, 2019.

Reason and It’s Other: The Cognitive and Non-Cognitive

  1. Introduction: The meaning of the title is inspired by a book I have been reading on post-Enlightenment German philosophy. Here is a quote from that book:

“The issues raised by the German receptions of the new French thought are complex, and the controversies continue. In far-ranging discussions, the status of reason, science, the Enlightenment, modernity, and progress have all been called into question. There have also been various attempts to rehabilitate the significance of the body, desire, nature, art, and religion as “Others” of reason.”[1] The truth is, post-modern thinking has called into question not only reason but the very foundations of the West, which is founded upon reason.

  • Why the topic is important
    1. Philosophy requires reason: Reason is the tool for understanding what is.
    2. Public philosophy requires reason as one component for common ground. We are all rational beings and have common recourse to the authority of reason.
  • Retrieving Reason: A book that I am writing inspired by a handout I received 25 years ago in Dr. Gangadean’s Introduction to Philosophy course. It has been the most valuable piece of learning in my whole career.
  • Reason in itself: The Laws of Thought /
    1. Human beings are rational animals (body/soul)
    2. It is self-evident that we think
    3. The laws of thought are self-evident first principles
      1. Identity
      2. Non-contradiction
      3. Excluded middle

Copi on the laws: Irving Copi, in his Introduction to Logic, says of these laws:

Those who have defined logic as a science of the laws of thought have often gone on to assert that there are exactly three fundamental or basic laws of thought necessary and sufficient for thinking to follow if it is to be “correct.” These have traditionally been called “the principle of identity,” “the principle of contradiction” (sometimes “the principle of noncontradiction”), and “the principle of excluded middle.’”[2]


  • The laws of thought are not fallible (Aristotle quote)

Let this, then, suffice to show that the most indisput­able of all beliefs is that contradictory statements are not at the same time true … But on the other hand, there cannot be an intermediate between contradicto­ries, but of one subject we must either affirm or deny any one predicate. This is clear, in the first place, if we define what the true and the false are. To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false….[3]


  • Reason in its use: Reasoning
    1. Reasoning is fallible (“human” reason). It is why we take Logic and have to learn to think critically. We are inclined to neglect, avoid, resist, or deny reason in light of what is clear to reason.
    2. Reason is used to form concepts, judgments, and arguments (the logos). Let us call this one aspect of the descriptive use of reason.
      1. Logos and language: Concepts are expressed by words/ logos. Concepts grasp the essential nature of a thing. We can more or less grasp what is. We can grasp more or less meaning.
      2. Logos and truth: Judgments are about what is/the logosin things (genus). But we may make false judgments.
      3. Logos and knowledge: Arguments tie down true belief with a logos. But an argument may be unsound. So, we need more.
  1. Reason is a test for meaning. Meaning is more basic than truth. Let’s call this the normative aspect of the use of reason: we ought to think critically. We ought to be careful to be sure the words we use express meaning, the judgments we make are true, and the arguments we make are sound. There is a moral obligation in our use of reason. Have we tested the meaning of our basic beliefs?
  2. Reason is used to interpret our experiences in light of our basic belief. We have experiences of the external world, of our thought world, our emotional and volitional world. We must make sense of all of these experiences because they are not self-certifying. Reason is used to interpret or give meaning to our experiences. Dr. Redpath recently said in an interview “We reason with our senses and we sense with our reason.” What I think this means is that we are constantly having experiences and we are constantly interpreting them.
  3. Reason is used to construct our world and life view. This is where our use of reason is systematic, culturally, and is historically situated. There is something systematic to the use of reason. There is something cultural and historical to the use of reason. But it is not the whole story.
  4. Reason in us: Rationality/ Rational
    1. Reason in us as human beings is natural. It is not cultural, not conventional. Because it is natural it is universal and a source of common ground.
    2. Reason in us is ontological (the logos). It applies to being as well as to thinking. Aristotle discusses the laws of thought at the beginning of his Metaphysics because reason is about being. It is not mere abstraction or logic. Reason, the laws of thought, tells us what cannot be, such as a square circle, or uncaused event, or being from non-being. Reason applies to the highest being, including the being of God. God cannot be both eternal and non-eternal.
    3. Reason is transcendental. It is the highest authority, to which all other authorities are subordinate. It cannot be questioned, but it makes questioning possible.
    4. Reason is fundamental. It is basic to other aspects of the human soul. It is basic to the emotions and to the will. Its use is the source of our greatest good – meaning, truth and knowledge. Its denial is the source of our deepest misery – meaninglessness, falsehood, and ignorance.
    5. Humans not irrational but may be non-rational: We consistently neglect, avoid, resist, and deny the use of reason in light of what is clear to reason. Why is that?
  1. Problems with Reason: Misuse and Misconceptions
    1. We may make a split between theoretical and practical reason (Plato vs. Aristotle vs. Pragmatists). Plato and Aristotle disagreed over whether one can know the good but not do the good.
    2. Rationalism: We may use reason constructively (system building) without using reason critically to examine the basic beliefs upon which we build.
    3. Logic (inductive/ deductive): We may divorce the laws of thought from being and create formal systems that do not touch reality.
  2. The “Other” of Reason: Non-Cognitivism. When we neglect, avoid, resist, or deny reason we must turn to the non-cognitive, or the other of reason, since we are rational beings that must give an account of what we think, feel, and do. There are many ways we turn aside.
    1. Emotion/intuition/feeling: We may appeal to non-cognitive feelings as a claim to knowledge or to justify our actions or to motivate others to act.
    2. Poetry/ the spirit of the artist/Sophistry: Philosophy becomes the “play of language,” but what does language represent? Signs about other signs unendingly? Aristotle addresses this in Metaphysics There cannot be an infinite number of predicates.
    3. Nature: Is reason opposed to nature? Or is reason fundamentally fitted to grasp the meaning of nature/ the logosin the world?
    4. Mysticism: We may claim to “go beyond” reason in an internal mystical experience as a source of knowledge and fail to recognize that all experience must be interpreted in light of our basic beliefs. Similar mystical experiences may be interpreted differently based upon our beginning assumptions about the nature of reality.
    5. Will/pragmatism/instrumentalism: We may appeal to non-cognitive volition as a claim to knowledge or to justify our actions or motivate others to act.
    6. Empiricism/scientism/common sense: We may appeal to external experience as a source of knowledge and fail to recognize that we always interpret our experiences in light of our basic beliefs.
    7. Informal fallacies/ rationalizations: We may reason poorly and think that we have reasoned well or we may come up with poor excuses thinking that they are reasons. Reason is a test for meaning and can help us in this area.
    8. Critique/ Logocentrism/ The Patriarchy: Some may say that “reason” is a product of white male colonial privilege. Some may say that the West is caught in logocentrism (valuing the spoken word/ dialogue over the written word). Some may say that reason is only useful as a form of critique and rooting out our assumptions. But if reason is natural and universal it cannot possibly be restricted to the “Patriarchy,” or to a particular class, race, culture, or civilization. To suggest so is dehumanizing. Both the spoken word and written word are expressions of concepts, which are universal, so logocentrism is a misnomer. Reason used as critique is one aspect of the use of reason, and those using Critique are generally uninterested in the most interesting use of critique, that is the critical examination of metaphysical assumptions.
    9. Madness (Nietzsche and Derrida): Madness is the result of the failure to use reason to find meaning. Madness, at least as in Nietzsche’s case, is the result of the denial of the use of reason at the basic level and the use of reason at the constructive level to follow the implications of assumptions. Nietzsche both failed in the use of reason (critically) and excelled in the use of reason (constructively). One must use reason critically and constructively to find meaning and to continue to grow in meaning.
    10. Skepticism is one aspect of anti-reason. It assumes (uncritically and without reason) that nobody can really know by reason.
    11. Fideism is another aspect of anti-reason. It assumes (uncritically and without reason) that nobody can really know by reason, but one must believe (blindly) anyway.
    12. Others: The body, miracles, chaos theory, etc.
  • Conclusion
    1. We must retrieve reason for the sake of the individual seeking meaning, for the sake of the future of philosophy, for common ground, for the culture, for Western Civilization, and for the global future/ kingdom of God.
    2. Questions, comments, concerns and critique are welcome
  • Future work
    1. Retrieving Reason: A Critical Analysis of the Sources of Skepticism
    2. A Syntopicon of Reason
    3. The Logos of History and the History of the Logos


[1]Freundlieb, Dieter and Wayne Hudson. Reason and Its Other: Rationality in Modern German Philosophy and Culture. (Oxford: Berg Publishers; 1993).

[2]Copi, Irving M. and Carl Cohen. Introduction to Logic, tenth edition. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998), 389.

[3]Jonathan Barnes. The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Ox­ford Translation(Princeton: Princeton University, 1984) MetaphysicsIV.6.1011b 13-15 & 23-24, 1597.

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