Michael Stuart Kelly Posted January 16, 2007 Share Posted January 16, 2007 Rand's uses of the word reasonI made a post on another thread about Rand's different meanings for the word "reason" and illustrated them with excerpts. This clarified so much for me that I think it deserves a separate discussion. I am giving that part of my post here (with a couple of small changes for greater clarity). I think this discussion is extremely important since reason is one of the fundamentals of Objectivism. Of course, I am certain that Objectivism will not be damaged by this premise-checking. The reason I check premises is for clarification and proper understanding. It it not to debunk Rand or denigrate her. (It is almost embarrassing to have to say that, but in O-land there is no lack of misguided people who, like paranoids, know what you are "really up to" regardless of what you say or do.)Rand's use of the word "reason" is quite varied and it takes a lot of effort to maintain all the different contexts. Even then, some problems can be encountered with more subtle issues like the role of sensations and emotions in reason. Below are some quotes, without any pretension at being complete.Reason as a mental facultyI always understood Rand to mean the faculty of reason is made up of percepts, concepts and volition. She holds that volitional cognition starts with integration of percepts into concepts and considers that the integrations of sensations into percepts is automatic (and could even come under Barbara Branden's term, "psycho-epistemology"). Since Rand held reason to be volitional, and percept formation happens to be automatic, she usually did not include it in "reason." Still, integration of sensations into percepts is the raw material of reason and Rand fudges this exclusion right at the start. Here is a good example (Galt's speech, Atlas Shrugged, p 934):Man cannot survive except by gaining knowledge, and reason is his only means to gain it. Reason is the faculty that perceives, identifies and integrates the material provided by his senses. The task of his senses is to give him the evidence of existence, but the task of identifying it belongs to his reason, his senses tell him only that something is, but what it is must be learned by his mind.Reason is the faculty that perceives ... the material provided by his senses? Hmmmm... Isn't perceiving the material provided by the senses the act of percept formation—the act of integrating percepts from sensations? She said clearly here that reason is the faculty that does this.Here is another fudge, but a less clear one with a rather circular introduction. It seems that her concept of reason as a mental faculty is now drifting away from including percept formation, but it has not quite shaken it off ("The Objectivist Ethics," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 22):The faculty that directs this process ["conceptualizing"], the faculty that works by means of concepts, is: reason. The process is thinking.Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses.Still, integrating the material provided by man's senses is exactly what percepts do in Objectivism, so for the time being, percept formation would have to be an integral part of reason. But later, Rand rejected this and said "perceptual observation" was different from reason ("Concepts of Consciousness," Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd edition, p. 35):These concepts are formed by retaining their distinguishing characteristics and omitting their content. For instance, the concept "knowledge" is formed by retaining its distinguishing characteristics (a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation) and omitting the particular fact(s) involved.This statement clearly states that they are different. A process of reason can be based on perceptual observation, but it is not the same. By using the expression (perceptual observation) twice, this difference is emphasized. Also, I am presuming that "a process of reason" is carried out by the "faculty of reason."As percept formation is no longer a process of reason, the conclusion is that Rand no longer considers it part of the faculty of reason. There are more quotes I could garner to show where this is confusing, but this is enough for now.Reason as volitionThe double use of the word "faculty" below stretches the meaning beyond precision. Volition a now a full-fledged mental faculty, not just an integral part of the faculty of reason ("What is Romanticism?," The Romantic Manifesto, p. 105):The still deeper issue, the fact that the faculty of reason is the faculty of volition, was not known at the time, and the various theories of free will were for the most part of an anti-rational character, thus reinforcing the association of volition with mysticism.Setting aside the implied denial of the term "volition" for irrational choices (which is really strange), if you think this is a nitpick, look at the following quote where reason is equated with mind, and choice (volition) is equated with morality ("Racism," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 147):Racism negates two aspects of man's life: reason and choice, or mind and morality, replacing them with chemical predestination.The implication here is that they are separate issues whereas volition was a part of reason before.Reason contrasted with emotionsThe normal impression you get in Objectivism is that reason is one thing and emotions are another. There are many quotes like the following where this understanding is presented clearly or implicitly ("The 'Conflicts' of Men's Interests," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 58):In choosing his goals (the specific values he seeks to gain and/or keep), a rational man is guided by his thinking (by a process of reason)—not by his feelings or desires.Yet Rand warns about "a lethal dichotomy" in separating the two ("Art and Moral Treason," The Romantic Manifesto, p. 148):Thus the foundation of a lethal dichotomy is laid in his consciousness: the practical versus the moral, with the unstated, preconceptual implication that practicality requires the betrayal of one's values, the renunciation of ideals.His rationality is turned against him by means of a similar dichotomy: reason versus emotion. This goes way beyond stating that emotions are dominated by reason. If that was her intent, this passage is not as clear at all. It implies that no dichotomy exists between reason and emotions, at least no dichotomy that makes one be opposed to the other. And if no dichotomy exists, then they are integral (fundamental) parts of the same thing. But Rand makes even another meaning ("Philosophy and Sense of Life", The Romantic Manifesto, p. 33):And if there are degrees of evil, then one of the most evil consequences of mysticism—in terms of human suffering—is the belief that love is a matter of "the heart," not the mind, that love is an emotion independent of reason, that love is blind and impervious to the power of philosophy....When that power is called upon to verify and support an emotional appraisal, when love is a conscious integration of reason and emotion, of mind and values, then—and only then—it is the greatest reward of man's life.Now emotions are things that can be integrated with reason, not merely dominated by reason. There are even other meanings in other quotes, but these examples should indicate that Rand used several meanings for discussing reason and emotions in her writing, not just one.Reason as a moral valueTo add to the mix, Rand also uses reason as a moral value. If you think reason is a mental faculty for the brain like eyesight is for the eyes, this new use of the term can be very confusing. The faculty is treated like a principle. ("The Objectivist Ethics," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 27) Value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep—virtue is the act by which one gains and/or keeps it. The three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics—the three values which, together, are the means to and the realization of one's ultimate value, one's own life—are: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem, with their three corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride.How can the faculty of reason itself be a moral value? Aren't we all born with it? We merely choose to use it properly or not. The proper use of reason is the moral value, not the actual component of the mind. So long as a man has a healthy brain, this component will exist. I suppose the faculty itself is a biological value that one "acts to keep" by simply keeping the organism healthy. But that is a far cry from the moral meaning Rand gave it here. Reason as discussion and persuasionIn the following case, Rand uses reason to mean something else entirely, contrasting it with force ("The Nature of Government," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 108):The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships—thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement.This meaning of reason does not even imply rational thought except as a normative idea. Rational persuasion is the best, but for this meaning of reason, plain old rhetoric will do—just so long as force is not used.Reason as explanationThen, to make sure that you always have to keep context in mind, Rand often used the word reason in its colloquial sense of being a cause or justification or purpose for something. Here are a couple of quotes to show you what I mean:"The same reaction, for the same subconscious reason, is evoked by such elements as heroes or happy endings or the triumph of virtue, or, in the visual arts, beauty."("What is Romanticism?," The Romantic Manifesto, p. 102)"There is, however, an epistemological reason for the present designations, which we shall discuss when we discuss definitions."("Abstraction from Abstractions," Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd edition, p. 23)I did all this because I see a strong need to do some righteous premise checking for my own thinking. As reason is the cornerstone of Objectivism, this investigation is crucial. It is clear that Rand was not consistent in her definitions at times, and she used several different meanings for "reason." So the context needs to be specified for proper understanding.Some of the issues I just raised about Rand's writings and reason in this post can easily be expanded into full articles. All I have done is just get started. Michael Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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