Reason is a human mental faculty that is able to generate conclusions from assumptions or premises. The meaning of the word "reason" in this sense overlaps to a large extent with "rationality" and the adjective of "reason" in philosophical contexts is normally "rational", rather than "reasoned" or "reasonable". The concept of 'reason' is closely related to the concepts of language and logic, as reflected in the multiple meanings of the Greek word "logos", the root of logic, which translated into Latin became "ratio" and then in French "raison", from which the English word "reason" was derived. Reason is often contrasted with authority, intuition, emotion, mysticism, superstition, and faith, and is thought by rationalists to be more reliable than these in discovering what is true or what is best. The precise way in which reason differs from emotion, faith, and tradition is controversial, because all three are considered to be both potentially rational, and in potential conflict with reason.
Explanatory reasons are considerations which serve to explain why things have happened—they are reasons why events occur, or why states of affairs are the way they are. In other words, "reason" can also be a synonym for "cause". For example, a reason why a car starts is that its ignition is turned. In the context of explaining the actions of beings who act for reasons (i.e., rational agents), these are called motivating reasons--e.g., the reason why Bill went to college was to learn; i.e., that he would learn was his motivating reason. At least where a rational agent is acting rationally, her motivating reasons are those considerations which she believes count in favor of her so acting.
Normative reasons, on the other hand, are often said to be 'considerations which count in favor' of some state of affairs (this is, at any rate, a common view, notably held by T. M. Scanlon and Derek Parfit). Some philosophers (one being John Broome) view this these as the same as 'explanations of ought facts'. Just as explanatory reasons explain why some descriptive fact obtains (or came to obtain), normative reasons on this view explain why some normative facts obtain, i.e., they explain why some state of affairs ought to come to obtain (e.g., why someone should act or why some event ought to take place).
A common philosopher's distinction concerning normative reasons is between epistemic reasons and practical reasons. Epistemic reasons (also called theoretical reasons) are considerations which count in favor of believing some proposition to be true. Practical reasons are considerations which count in favor of some action or the having of some attitude (or at least, count in favor of wanting or trying to bring those actions or attitudes about).
Reasoning is the process of taking normative reasons into account—considering them, weighing them, or fitting them together in order to determine which beliefs or actions or attitudes they most favor. Theoretical reasoning is the process of taking theoretical (i.e., epistemic) reasons into account so as to determine what to believe or accept. Practical reasoning is the process of taking practical reasons into account so as to determine what to do or what attitudes to have.
Assessing how well someone engages in reasoning is the project of determining the extent to which the person is rational or acts rationally. Rationality is often divided into its respective theoretical and practical counterparts.
In modern times, there is an increasing tendency to use the terms "logic" and "reason" interchangeably in philosophical discussion, or to see logic as the most pure or the defining form of reason.
Reason and logic can be thought of as distinct, although logic is one important aspect of reason. Reason is a type of thought. The word Logic involves the attempt to describe rules by which reason operates, so that orderly reasoning can be taught. The oldest surviving writing to explicitly consider the rules by which reason operates are the works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, especially Prior Analysis and Posterior Analysis. Although the Ancient Greeks had no separate word for logic as distinct from language and reason, Aristotle's newly coined word "syllogism" (syllogismos) identified logic clearly for the first time as a distinct field of study. When Aristotle referred to "the logical" (hê logikê), he was referring more broadly to rational thought.
Author Douglas Hofstadter, in Gödel, Escher, Bach, characterizes the distinction in this way. Logic is done inside a system while reason is done outside the system by such methods as skipping steps, working backward, drawing diagrams, looking at examples, or seeing what happens if you change the rules of the system.
Another way to consider the confusion between logic and reason is that computers and animals sometimes perform actions which are apparently logical: from a complex set of data, conclusions are achieved which are "logical". Being a cause of something which humans find logical does not necessarily mean that computers or animals have reason, or even logic in the strict sense. Some animals are also clearly capable of a type of "associative thinking"—even to the extent of associating causes and effects. A dog once kicked, can learn how to recognize the warning signs and avoid being kicked in the future. Human reason is something much more specific, requiring not just the possibility of associating perceptions of smoke, for example, with memories of fire, but also the ability to create and manipulate a system of symbols, as well as indices and icons, according to Charles Sanders Peirce, the symbols having only a nominal, though habitual, connection to either smoke or fire.
Thomas Hobbes described the creation of “Markes, or Notes of remembrance” (Leviathan Ch.4) as “speech” (allowing by his definition that it is not necessarily a means of communication or speech in the normal sense; he was clearly using "speech" as an English version of "logos" in this description). In the context of a language, these marks or notes are called "Signes" by Hobbes.
Since classical times a question has remained constant in philosophical debate (which is sometimes seen as a conflict between movements called Platonism and Aristotelianism) concerning the role of reason in confirming truth.
Both Aristotle and Plato, like many philosophers throughout history, wrote about this question, which can be explained as follows.
People use logic, deduction, and induction, to reach conclusions they think are true. Conclusions reached in this way are considered more certain than sense perceptions on their own. On the other hand, if such reasoned conclusions are only built originally upon a foundation of sense perceptions, then, the argument being considered goes, our most logical conclusions can never be said to be certain because they are built upon the very same fallible perceptions they seek to better.
This leads to the question of what types of first principles, or starting points of reasoning, are available for someone seeking to come to true conclusions. Empiricism (sometimes associated with Aristotle but more correctly associated with British philosophers such as John Locke and David Hume, as well as their ancient equivalents such as Democritus) asserts that sensory impressions are the only available starting points for reasoning and attempting to attain truth. This approach always leads to the controversial conclusion that absolute knowledge is not attainable. Idealism, (associated with Plato and his school), claims that there is a "higher" reality, from which certain people can directly arrive at truth without needing to rely only upon the senses, and that this higher reality is therefore the primary source of truth.
In Greek, “first principles” are arkhai, starting points, and the faculty used to perceive them is sometimes referred to in Aristotle and Plato as “nous” which was close in meaning to “awareness” or “consciousness”.
Philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Averroes, Maimonides, Aquinas and Hegel are sometimes said to have argued that reason must be fixed and discoverable—perhaps by dialectic, analysis, or study. In the vision of these thinkers, reason is divine or at least has divine attributes. Such an approach allowed religious philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas and Étienne Gilson to try to show that reason and revelation are compatible. According to Hegel, "...the only thought which Philosophy bring with it to the contemplation of History, is the simple conception of reason; that reason is the Sovereign of the World; that the history of the world, therefore, presents us with a rational process."
Since the Seventeenth century rationalists, reason has often been taken to be a subjective faculty, or rather the unaided ability (pure reason) to form concepts. For Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz, this was associated with mathematics. Kant attempted to show that pure reason could form concepts (time and space) that are the conditions of experience. Kant made his argument in opposition to Hume, who denied that reason had any role to play in experience.
Imagination is not only found in humans. Aristotle, for example, stated that phantasia (imagination: that which can hold images or phantasmata) and phronein (a type of thinking which can judge and understand in some sense) also exist in some animals. Both are related to the primary perceptive ability of animals, which gathers the perceptions of different senses and defines the order of the things that are perceived without distinguishing universals, and without deliberation or logos. This is equivalent to the habitual thinking about cause and effect discussed by Hume, and mentioned above. But this is not yet reason, because human imagination is different.
The recent modern writings of Terrence Deacon and Merlin Donald fit into an older tradition which makes reason connected to language, and mimesis, but more specifically the ability to create language as part of an internal modeling of reality specific to humankind. Other results are consciousness, and imagination or fantasy. In more recent times, important areas of research include the relationship between reason and language, especially in discussions of origin of language. Modern proponents of a priori reasoning, at least with regards to language, include Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, to whom Donald and Deacon can be usefully contrasted.
If reason is symbolic thinking, and peculiarly human, then this implies that humans have a special ability to maintain a clear consciousness of the distinctness of "icons" or images and the real things they represent. Starting with a modern author, Merlin Donald writes
A dog might perceive the "meaning" of a fight that was realistically play-acted by humans, but it could not reconstruct the message or distinguish the representation from its referent (a real fight). [...] Trained apes are able to make this distinction; young children make this distinction early – hence, their effortless distinction between play-acting an event and the event itself
What Donald refers to here can be compared to Plato's term, eikasia. Jacob Klein’s A Commentary on the Meno goes through a particularly difficult Plato dialog concerning learning, the Meno, which contains a long digression on this subject. According to this, an important aspect of human thinking in the Ancient Greek philosophical terminology of Plato is eikasia. This is the ability to perceive whether a perception is an image of something else, related somehow but not the same, and which therefore allows us to perceive that a dream or memory or a reflection in a mirror is not reality as such. What Klein refers to as dianoetic eikasia is the eikasia concerned specifically with thinking and mental images, such as those mental symbols, icons, "signes" and marks which are discussed above as definitive of reason. Explaining reason from this direction: human thinking is special in the way that we often understand visible things as if they were themselves images of our intelligible "objects of thought" as "foundations" (hypothêses in Ancient Greek). This thinking (dianoia) is "an activity which consists in making the vast and diffuse jungle of the visible world depend on a plurality of more 'precise' noêta".
In turn, both Merlin Donald and the Socratic authors emphasize the importance of mimesis, often translated as “imitation”. Donald writes
Imitation is found especially in monkeys and apes [… but…] Mimesis is fundamentally different from imitation and mimicry in that it involves the invention of intentional representations. [...] Mimesis is not absolutely tied to external communication.
Mimêsis is a concept, now popular again in academic discussion, which was particularly prevalent in Plato’s works, and within Aristotle, it is discussed mainly in the Poetics. In Michael Davis’s account of the theory of man in this work.
It is the distinctive feature of human action, that whenever we choose what we do, we imagine an action for ourselves as though we were inspecting it from the outside. Intentions are nothing more than imagined actions, internalizings of the external. All action is therefore imitation of action; it is poetic...
...Thus Davis is here using “poetic” in an unusual sense, questioning the contrast in Aristotle between action (praxis, the praktikê) and making (poêsis, the poêtikê)...
...Human [peculiarly human] action is imitation of action because thinking is always rethinking. Aristotle can define human beings as at once rational animals, political animals, and imitative animals because in the end the three are the same.
We can also note that Donald also shares with Plato and Aristotle (especially in On Memory and Recollection), an emphasis upon the peculiarity in humans of voluntary initiation of a search through one’s mental world. The ancient Greek anamnêsis, normally translated as “recollection” was opposed to mneme or “memory”. Memory, shared with some animals, requires a consciousness not only of what happened in the past, but also that something happened in the past, which is in other words a kind of eikasia "but nothing except man is able to recollect". Recollection is a deliberate effort to search for and recapture something which was once known. Klein writes that, to "become aware of our having forgotten something means to begin recollecting".
Donald calls the same thing “autocueing”, which he explains as follows:
Mimetic acts are reproducible on the basis of internal, self-generated cues. This permits voluntary recall of mimetic representations, without the aid of external cues – probably the earliest form of representational “thinking”.
In a celebrated paper on this subject of modern times, the fantasy author and philologist J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in his essay "On Fairy Stories" that the terms “fantasy” and “enchantment” are connected to not only “the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires” but also “the origin of language and of the mind”.
In a nutshell, reason is a backup source of an opinion.
In western literature, reason is often opposed to emotions or feelings – desires, fears, hates, drives, or passions. Even in everyday speech, westerners tend to say for example that their passions made them behave contrary to reason, or that their reason kept the passions under control. Many writers, such as Nikos Kazantzakis, extol passion and disparage reason.
It has also become common, particularly since the writings of Freud, to describe reason as the servant of the passions—the means of sorting out our desires and then getting what we want, or perhaps even the slave of the passions—allowing us to pretend to reason to the object of our desire. Such feigned reason is called "rationalization".
Philosophers such as Plato, Rousseau, Hume, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche have combined both views—making rational thinking not only a tool of desires, but also something privileged within the spectrum of desires, being itself desired, and not only because of its usefulness in satisfying other desires.
Modern psychology has much to say on the role of emotions in belief formation. Deeper philosophical questions about the relation between belief and reality are studied in the field of epistemology, which forms part of the philosophical basis of science, a branch of human activity that specifically aims to determine (certain types of) truth by methods that avoid dependence on the emotions of the researchers.
Near the beginning of political philosophy, Aristotle famously described reason (with language) as a part of human nature which means that it is best for humans to live "politically" meaning in communities of about the size and type of a small city state (polis in Greek). For example...
The concept of human nature being fixed in this way, implied, in other words, that we can define what type of community is always best for people. This argument has remained a central argument in all political, ethical and moral thinking since then, and has become especially controversial since firstly Rousseau's Second Discourse, and secondly, the Theory of Evolution. Already in Aristotle there was an awareness that the polis had not always existed and had needed to be invented or developed by humans themselves. The household came first, and the first villages and cities were just extensions of that, with the first cities being run as if they were still families with Kings acting like fathers....
Rousseau in his Second Discourse finally took the shocking step of claiming that this traditional account has things in reverse: with reason, language and rationally organized communities all having developed over a long period of time merely as a result of the fact that some habits of cooperation were found to solve certain types of problems, and that once such cooperation became more important, it forced people to develop increasingly complex cooperation—often only in order to defend themselves from each other.
In other words, according to Rousseau, reason, language and rational community did not arise because of any conscious decision or plan by humans or gods, nor because of any pre-existing human nature. As a result, he claimed, living together in rationally organized communities like modern humans is a development which has many negative aspects compared to the original state of man as an ape. If there be anything specifically human in this theory, it is the flexibility and adaptability of humans. This view of the animal origins of distinctive human characteristics later received support from Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.
The two competing theories concerning the origins of reason are relevant to political and ethical thought because according to the Aristotelian theory, there is a best way of living together which exists independently of historical circumstances. According to Rousseau, we should even doubt that reason, language and politics are a good thing, as opposed to being simply the best option given the particular course of events which lead to today. Rousseau's theory, that human nature is malleable rather than fixed, is often taken to imply, for example by Karl Marx, a wider range of possible ways of living together than traditionally known.
However, while Rousseau's initial impact encouraged bloody revolutions against traditional politics, including both the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution, his own conclusions about the best forms of community seem to have been remarkably classical, in favor of city-states such as Geneva, and rural living.
Though theologies and religions typically do not claim to be irrational, there is often a perceived conflict or tension between faith and tradition on the one hand, and reason on the other, as potentially competing sources of wisdom, law and truth. Defenders of traditions and faiths from claims that they are irrationalist for ignoring or even attempting to forbid reason and argument concerning some subjects, typically maintain that there is no real conflict with reason, because reason itself is not enough to explain such things as the origins of the universe, or right and wrong, and so reason can and should be complemented by other sources of knowledge. The counter claim to this is that such a defense does not logically explain why arguments from reason would be forbidden or ignored.
There are enormously wide differences between different faiths, or even schools within different faiths, concerning this matter.
Some commentators have claimed that Western civilization can be almost defined by its serious testing of the limits of tension between “unaided” reason and faith in "revealed" truths—figuratively summarized as Athens and Jerusalem, respectively. Leo Strauss spoke of a "Greater West" which included all areas under the influence of the tension between Greek rationalism and Abrahamic revelation, including the Muslim lands. He was particularly influenced by the great Muslim philosopher Al-Farabi. In order to consider to what extent Eastern philosophy might have partaken of these important tensions, it is perhaps best to consider whether dharma or tao may be equivalent to Nature (by which we mean physis in Greek). According to Strauss the beginning of philosophy involved the "discovery or invention of nature" and the "pre-philosophical equivalent of nature" was supplied by "such notions as 'custom' or 'ways'" which appear to be "really universal" "in all times and places". The philosophical concept of nature or natures as a way of understanding arkhai (first principles of knowledge) brought about a peculiar tension between reasoning on the one hand, and tradition or faith on the other.
Faith fully understood amounts to conformity to truth, whereas rational thought is but an imperfect means of apprehending truth. Conforming to truth involves apprehending or understanding it theoretically, but theoretically understanding truth does not necessarily involve conforming to it.
Reason involves the ability to think, understand and draw conclusions in an abstract way, as in human thinking. The meaning of the word "reason" overlaps to a large extent with "rationality" and the adjective of reason in philosophical contexts is normally "rational", not "reasonable".
Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
...Finally, what is Reason ? You have often asked me ; and this is my answer :--
Whene'er the mist, that stands 'twixt God and thee,
[Sublimates] to a pure transparency,
That intercepts no light and adds no stain--
There Reason is, and then begins her reign !
But alas !
--`tu stesso, ti fai grosso
Col falso immaginar, s� che non vedi
Ci� che vedresti, se l'avessi scosso.
|This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.|
Reason or reasoning is a way of thinking that uses logic and facts. Reason tries to learn what is true or best. It is the opposite of using feelings and emotions. In common English, it is using your head instead of your heart.
Reason has been an important part of philosophy since Ancient Greece. Many philosophers have thought about what reason is, how to think using reason (Logic), if religious thinking and faith are ways of reasoning, what we can know if we only use reason (Epistemology), and if animals or computers can think using reason.