Tag Archive: reason

The totalitarianism of absolutist rationality

But the Enlightenment discerned the old powers in the Platonic and Aristotelian heritage of metaphysics and sup­pressed the universal categories’ claims to truth as superstition. In the authority of universal concepts the Enlighten­ment detected a fear of the demons through whose effigies human beings had tried to influence nature in magic rituals. From now on matter was finally to be controlled without the illusion of immanent powers or hidden properties. For en­lightenment, anything which does not conform to the standard of calculability and utility must be viewed with suspicion. Once the movement is able to develop unhampered by external oppression, there is no holding it back. Its own ideas of human rights then fare no better than the older universals. Any intellectual resistance it encounters merely increases its strength. The reason is that enlightenment also recognizes itself in the old myths. No matter which myths are invoked against it, by being used as arguments they are made to acknowledge the very principle of corrosive rationality of which enlightenment stands accused. Enlightenment is totalitarian. [3-4]

Growing by mutual criticism

Reason, like science, grows by way of mutual criticism; the only possible way of ‘planning’ its growth is to develop those institutions that safeguard the freedom of this criticism, that is to say, the freedom of thought. [499]

The only genuinely scientific political philosophy

If Popper is right about science then his is also the only genuinely scientific political philosophy; and also, most im­portantly, the hostility to science and the revolt against reason, both of which are so prominently expressed in today’s world, are directed at false conceptions of science and reason. [101]

Manning the fortress

Plato’s principle of leadership is far removed from a pure personalism since it involves the working of institutions; and indeed it may be said that a pure personalism is impossible. But it must be said that a pure institutionalism is impossible also. Not only does the construction of institutions involve important personal decisions, but the functioning of even the best institutions (such as democratic checks and balances) will always depend, to a considerable degree, on the persons involved. Institutions are like fortresses. They must be well designed and manned.

This distinction between the personal and the institutional element in a social situation is a point which is often missed by the critics of democracy. Most of them are dissatisfied with democratic institutions because they find that these do not necessarily prevent a state or a policy from falling short of some moral standards or of some political demands which may be urgent as well as admirable. But these critics misdirect their attacks; they do not understand what democratic institutions may be expected to do, and what the alternative to democratic institutions would be. Democracy (using this label in the sense suggested above) provides the institutional framework for the reform of political institutions. It makes possible the reform of institutions without using violence, and thereby the use of reason in the designing of new insti­tutions and the adjusting of old ones. It cannot provide reason. The question of the intellectual and moral standard of its citizens is to a large degree a personal problem. [ch. 7, 138]

Education is about responsibility

Repudiate bullshit wherever you find it. Reason is worth standing up for.

But be smart about it. Instead of telling people they’re espousing nonsense, ask why they believe what they believe. Then really listen. Be genuinely open to changing your mind. Ask thoughtful questions. Examine the reasoning process that led to their conclusions. Keep your cool. Probe. Then hone in and expose instances of unreason.

What we want to do is create a culture where we take responsibility for what we say, what we think, and what we do. Education isn’t just about you, it’s about the environment around you.

No absolute reason either

Die Naturalisierung und Demokratisierung der Offenbarungsidee löste die Erkenntnis aus den traditionellen Bindun­gen und machte sie zu einer Offenbarung der Vernunft oder der Sinne. Nicht mehr durch Berufung auf mit Autorität versehene Texte, sondern durch Berufung auf geistige Intuition oder Sinneswahrnehmungen konnte man nun Erkennt­nisse legitimieren. Das heißt aber nur, daß die irrationale Autorität durch rationale Instanzen mit ähnlicher Funktion er­setzt, das autoritäre Rechtfertigungsschema aber letzten Endes doch beibehalten wurde. Die Wahrheit war nun jedem zugänglich, der sich seiner Vernunft oder seiner Sinne in richtiger Weise bediente, aber gleichzeitig blieb die Idee einer Wahrheitsgarantie, die Vorstellung einer sicheren Erkenntnis, aufrechterhalten. Durch Intuition oder Wahrneh­mung hatte man einen unmittelbaren Zugang zu einer unbezweifelbaren Wahrheit, von der sich die anderen, mittel­baren, Wahrheiten mit Hilfe eines Ableitungsverfahrens, in deduktiver oder induktiver Weise, gewinnen ließen. Man glaubte also immer noch auf einen sicheren Grund rekurrieren zu müssen und auch zu können.

The royal road to tyranny and revolution

Ideas have consequences, and the ‘who should rule?’ approach to political philosophy is not just a mistake of aca­demic analysis: it has been part of practically every bad political doctrine in history. If the political process is seen as an engine for putting the right rulers in power, then it justifies violence, for until that right system is in place, no ruler is legitimate; and once it is in place, and its designated rulers are ruling, opposition to them is opposition to rightness. The problem then becomes how to thwart anyone who is working against the rulers or their policies. By the same logic, everyone who thinks that existing rulers or policies are bad must infer that the ‘who should rule?’ question has been answered wrongly, and therefore that the power of the rulers is not legitimate, and that opposing it is legitimate, by force if necessary. Thus the very question ‘Who should rule?’ begs for violent, authoritarian answers, and has often received them. It leads those in power into tyranny, and to the entrenchment of bad rulers and bad policies; it leads their opponents to violent destructiveness and revolution.

Advocates of violence usually have in mind that none of those things need happen if only everyone agreed on who should rule. But that means agreeing about what is right, and, given agreement on that, rulers would then have nothing to do. And, in any case, such agreement is neither possible nor desirable: people are different, and have unique ideas; problems are inevitable, and progress consists of solving them.

Popper therefore applies his basic ‘how can we detect and eliminate errors?’ to political philosophy in the form how can we rid ourselves of bad governments without violence? Just as science seeks explanations that are experimentally testable, so a rational political system makes it as easy as possible to detect, and persuade others, that a leader or policy is bad, and to remove them without violence if they are. [210-11]

The universality of reason

The whole of the above discussion assumes the universality of reason. The reach of science has inherent limitations; so does mathematics; so does every branch of philosophy. But if you believe that there are bounds on the domain in which reason is the proper arbiter of ideas, then you believe in unreason or the supernatural. [166]