Tag Archive: rationality

No knowledge is above criticism

[I]rrationalists are dangerously mistaken when they suggest that there is any knowledge, of whatever kind, or source, or origin, which is above or exempt from rational criticism. [28]

God: the ultimate guarantee for man’s freedom?

For instance, it was one thing for a circumscribed group of intellectuals to discuss atheism, as had happened up to now, quite another to arrange for its popular diffusion and propaganda via a publishing campaign like that attempted without great success by adherents of the Radical Enlightenment. It was one thing for the different Christian denominations and the great revealed religions to be split by bloody and incomprehensible theological controversies. It was another matter entirely to posit point blank the idea of establishing a new universal and natural religion common to all the peoples in the world, a religion that was rational—devoid of dogmas, churches, hierarchies, and priests—and that would take hold first among the élites and then among the rest of the population. This implied the existence of a God who was very far away and frankly uninterested in human events, and whose sole function was that of granting the ultimate guarantee for man’s freedom and responsibility and none whatsoever for the authority of any Church. [xii]

Why true knowledge isn’t power

This unbalanced (and immature) attitude is obsessed with the problem of power, not only over other men, but also over our natural environment — over the world as a whole. What I might call, by analogy, the ‘false religion’, is obsessed not only by God’s power over men but also by His power to create a world; similarly, false rationalism is fascinated by the idea of creating huge machines and Utopian social worlds. Bacon’s ‘knowledge is power’ and Plato’s ‘rule of the wise’ are different expressions of this attitude which, at bottom, is one of claiming power on the basis of one’s superior intel­lectual gifts. The true rationalist, in opposition, will always be aware of the simple fact that whatever reason he may possess he owes to intellectual intercourse with others. He will be inclined, therefore, to consider men as fundamentally equal, and human reason as a bond which unites them. Reason for him is the precise opposite of an instrument of power and violence: he sees it as a means whereby they may be tamed.[488]

Nobody knows

Scientists are like architects who build buildings of different sizes and different shapes and who can be judged only after the event, i.e. only after they have finished their structure. It may stand up, it may fall down – nobody knows. [2]

Setting free the critical powers of man

This book raises issues which may not be apparent from the table of contents.

It sketches some of the difficulties faced by our civilization—a civilization which might be perhaps described as aiming at humaneness and reasonableness, at equality and freedom; a civilization which is still in its infancy, as it were, and which continues to grow in spite of the fact that it has been so often betrayed by so many of the intellectual leaders of mankind. It attempts to show that this civilization has not yet fully recovered from the shock of its birth—the transition from the tribal or ‘closed society’, with its submission to magical forces, to the ‘open society’ which sets free the critical powers of man. It attempts to show that the shock of this transition is one of the factors that have made possible the rise of those reactionary movements which have tried, and still try, to overthrow civilization and to return to tribalism. And it suggests that what we call nowadays totalitarianism belongs to a tradition which is just as old or just as young as our civilization itself. It tries thereby to contribute to our understanding of totalitarianism, and of the significance of the perennial fight against it.

It further tries to examine the application of the critical and rational methods of science to the problems of the open society. It analyses the principles of democratic social reconstruction, the principles of what I may term ‘piecemeal social engineering’ in opposition to ‘Utopian social engineering’. And it tries to clear away some of the obstacles im­peding a rational approach to the problems of social reconstruction. It does so by criticizing those social philosophies which are responsible for the widespread prejudice against the possibilities of democratic reform. [Introduction]

The most striking fact of evolution

What I regard as the most important point is not the sheer autonomy and anonymity of the third world, or the admittely very important point that was always owe almost everything to our predecessors and to the tradtion which they created: that we thus owe to the third world especially our rationality — that is, our subjective mind, the practice of critical and self-critical ways of thinking and the corresponding dispositions. More important than all this, I suggest, is the relation between ourselves and our work, and what can be gained for us from this relation.

[…] I suggest that everything depends upon the give-and-take between ourselves and our work; upon the product which we contribute to the third world, and upon that constant feed-back that can be amplified by conscious self-criticism. The incredible thing about life, evolution, and mental growth, is just this method of give-and-take, this inter­action between our actions and their results by which we constantly transcend ourselves, our talents, our gifts.

This self-transcendence is the most striking and important fact of all life and all evolution, and especially of human evolution. [147]

Rationality’s handmaiden

[Hans Albert: Kleines verwundertes Nachwort zu einer großen Einleitung]

Eine Dialektik, die der Logik entraten zu können glaubt, scheint mir einen der gefährlichsten Züge des deutschen Den­kens zu unterstützen, vermutlich ganz im Gegensatz zu den hinter ihr stehenden Intentionen: die Tendenz zum Irratio­nalismus. [339]

Owing our reason to other people

When I speak of reason or rationalism, all I mean is the conviction that we can learn through criticism of our mistakes and errors, especially through criticism by others, and eventually also through self-criticism. A rationalist is simply someone for whom it is more important to learn than to be proved right; someone who is willing to learn from others – not by simply taking over another’s opinions, but by gladly allowing others to criticize his ideas and by gladly criticizing the ideas of others. The emphasis here is on the idea of criticism or, to be more precise, critical discussion. The genuine rationalist does not think that he or anyone else is in possession of the truth; nor does he think that mere criticism as such helps us achieve new ideas. But he does think that, in the sphere of ideas, only critical discussion can help us sort the wheat from the chaff. He is well aware that acceptance or rejection of an idea is never a purely rational matter; but he thinks that only critical discussion can give us the maturity to see an idea from more and more sides and to make a correct judgement of it.

This assessment of critical discussion also has its human side. For the rationalist knows perfectly well that critical dis­cussion is not the only relationship between people: that, on the contrary, rational critical discussion is a rare phe­nomenon in our lives. Yet he thinks that the ‘give and take’ attitude fundamental to critical discussion is of the greatest purely human significance. For the rationalist knows that he owes his reason to other people. He knows that the rational critical attitude can only be the result of others’ criticism, and that only through others’ criticism can one arrive at self-criticism. [84]

The longing of uncounted men

I see now more clearly than ever before that even our greatest troubles spring from something that is as admirable and sound as it is dangerous — from our impatience to better the lot of our fellows. For these troubles are the by-products of what is perhaps the greatest of all moral and spiritual revolutions of history, a movement which began three centuries ago. It is the longing of uncounted unknown men to free themselves and their minds from the tutelage of authority and prejudice. It is their attempt to build up an open society which rejects the absolute authority to preserve, to develop, and to establish traditions, old or new, that measure up to their standards of freedom, of humaneness, and of rational criti­cism. It is their unwillingness to sit back and leave the entire responsibility for ruling the world to human or superhuman authority, and their readiness to share the burden of responsibility for avoidable suffering, and to work for its avoidance. This revolution has created powers of appalling destructiveness; but they may yet be conquered. [Preface to 2nd ed.]

Knowledge without dogma

I have tried to show that the most important of the traditional problems of epistemology — those connected with the growth of knowledge — transcend the two standard methods of linguistic analysis and require the analysis of scientific knowledge. But the last thing I wish to do, however, is to advocate another dogma. Even the analysis of science — the ‘philosophy of science’ — is threatening to become a fashion, a specialism. Yet philosophers should not be specialists. For myself, I am interested in science and in philosophy only because I want to learn something about the riddle of the world in which we live, and the riddle of man’s knowledge of that world. And I believe that only a revival of interest in these riddles can save the sciences and philosophy from narrow specialization and from an obscurantist faith in the expert’s special skill, and in his personal knowledge and authority; a faith that so well fits our ‘post-rationalist’ and ‘post-critical’ age, proudly dedicated to the destruction of the tradition of rational philosophy, and of rational thought itself. [xxvi]

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