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Episode #134 ... Consequences of Reason

2019-08-07 | 🔗

Today we talk about the growing dissatisfaction with Enlightenment Reason during the early 20th century. 

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello, everyone, I'm Stephen West. This is philosophize. This thank you to everyone that supports the show on Patreon. I can never do this without you, today's episodes trying to get to the bottom of why there's so many thinkers at the beginning of the twentieth century that have such a problem with a reason. I hope you love the show today so this disagreement that defines the state of the philosophical landscape in the early 20th century. We called it a lot of different things on the show: nature, vs culture, modernity versus postmodernity, objectivity, vs intersubjectivity, one thing about this debate- if it's not entirely obvious by this point on the show, is that understanding the perspectives that are positioned on either side of this debate is absolutely crucial not only for understanding 20th century political philosophy, but even for understanding the world you're living in today for understanding the smallest things, the philosophical underpinnings for a minute,
arguments who might see when you turn on the news we ve talked about bits and pieces of this debate for a long time on the show and its high time there's an episode. You can point people to that goes into a bit a detail about this aspect of minor discourse, something that talks about why the climate of the early twentieth century was filled with. Philosophers have had such a strong level of dissatisfaction with the legacy of the enlightenment. Is rationality, individualism and scientific method is the primary way of arriving at truth about things, because this whole state of affairs can start to seem kind of confusing to reasonable people. I mean how could any serious person ever be anti science look at the understanding of the natural world, science has produced. Look at how its let us manipulate we'll be otherwise chaos of the natural world to the benefit of human beings. Look at all the different ways. Every day that you use the great thing science has produced and and what your disk against that system, your dissatisfied with the thing that made all those things possible,
That's convenient. Look at all the things rationality has produced opened up a history book for a second thousands of years of religious dogma gone to be, Ty science and rationality can seem to some like you're, just being anti human or pro some other dogma that you want to impose upon people, but an interesting place to get started, but this conversation is at the other side of the debate, the one sceptical of the tasks of the enlightenment. They would also see themselves as pro science and anti dogma is, of course, an end to this story were telling today about our. Strive using rationality as a guide, but this is a place I want to begin in. The story starts in the late nineteenth century, with the philosopher nature and some things he had to say about the attitudes of the law. Suffers at the founding of the enlightenment. So some quick historical context, the beginning of the enlightenment, is often cited as the moment when can't releases his famous essay titled. What is enlightenment? We have an episode on its content
Bribes describes enlightenment, as quote man's removal of his self incurred tutelage, and what is referring to is the tutelage of thousands of years of religious later on in the USA. He actually challenges the thinkers of his time to dare to know or dare to think for yourselves for one In other words, we need another way, other than religious faith, to be able to arrive at the truth about things, because faith from these thinkers perspectives has cost us a lot of problems, the story. Well, the thing is that the time take up the challenge they look around them. They look at all the available
options and collectively decide to double down on reason instead of faith. This is the birth of the age of reason. This is the use of rational categories to make sense of things proportionate. Our belief to the evidence. The political systems of the time took a strong turned towards the individual subject and mutually beneficial social contracts, as opposed to teleology or strict roles that people are supposed to plan a society and- and this whole strategy seemed extremely reasonable at the time, and I ran a clean later, philosophers would lament that that was exactly what was wrong with the strategy, but it seemed reason at the time, but we'll get to that. Nature looks back on this moment in history and he sees the choices of the philosophers made at the founding the enlightenment as an absolutely giant missed opportunity, because he says hypothetically. This was a moment when philosophers could have realised that one of the biggest power
problems with those faith based views the world centred around the idea of religious certainty with certainty. What these thinkers did Nietzsche says is: throw out the religious certainty, the cause him so many problems in the past and just change the criteria, for what makes something certain rationality is now our path, the certainty they were placed, one dogma with another dogma. So what happened was with each progressive, classical rationalist philosopher doing their work? We seem to be coming to terms with how everything in the universe neatly into these rational categories we came up with. We were finally understanding the truth. After all those years and rationality was getting us there with each progressive scientific experiment. That was
undeniably bringing us an understanding of the natural world that improve the lives of people. Look at this point. How could any reasonable person say that the process of science wasn't accessing something of the truth about reality, but then hundreds of years go by and as the goals of the enlightenment are played out, problems start to arise in this dynamic starts to produce philosophers that want to understand the limitations of classical rational thought. One of the first major once it gives rise to this trend was conquered. Kircher Guard has a quote and um I'm paraphrasing here, but he says here are all these philosophers and scientists of his time that understand that pissed levels of reality in existence, and here he is, and he can't even understand Abraham. What I'm saying is science and rationality during his time is supposedly producing some of the most comprehensive understanding of reality that we ve ever had, but when it comes to certain aspects, of what it means to be a human being.
Ash analogy. Just cannot help you there, it's not a useful tool in that context. So many things about your life on an everyday level, human existence is filled with paradox. If you look for it. There are times in our lives, and he gives examples from the life of Abraham. There are times when continuing to live in the face of that paradox requires irrationality. Cook regard thinks this irrationality is an important part of our existence, just as important as rationality. It turns out
and if you ever try to swear off irrationality completely and make purely rational choices all the time you be left us state of total paralysis. He says, maybe a good metaphor. This is to try to think about what it would be like to have a book that told you how to be a human being and three under pages of a field manual for life, better, yet picture having a book that supposed to tell you how to raise a child right, you open it up and its filled with these math equations and syllogisms geometric breakdowns of how to design the nursery look for anyone. That's ever actually raised a child before You know how tremendously oversimplified something like that would have to be now. The intent of the author may have been to arrive at a new level of certainty about parenting, yet let us dare to think for ourselves for once remove ourselves from the tutelage of the parenting dogma of the past, but the best intentions in the world. Don't change the fact that there is something missing
there's something about being a human being. That's lost when we're using pure rational analysis to try to explain it more than that? No matter how much scientific progress we are making the tools, we use the cattle that scientific data, the means of analysis, aren't even remember Lee, similar to the way we experienced reality as human beings. Perfect example to describe this phenomenon used in the work of Professor Lloyd Kramer. He says take time, for example, there's this thing about the universe that we call time. We want to use rational analysis to understand better, so we measure it recorded and study it through the use of tools of rational analysis that we call clocks. Now, four o clock seconds are uniform. There
sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, so on and so forth time, when viewed purely through the lens of rational analysis, looks like that. But what is our actual human experience of time, but sometimes time flies sometimes a few seconds of something agonizing can feel like an hour to us. The point is when it comes to understanding the universe. Clocks might be the ultimate tool, but when it comes to understanding certain aspects of our human experience of the universe, the tool of rational analysis just cannot tell the full story so I regard becomes a symbol for a fracture and this idea of this idea. That starts to seem like a pretty extreme idea. That rationality is gonna, be able to provide us with an exhaustive understanding of everything, but people might argue back to that look. Maybe there are things robbing a person that aren't entirely rational but informing The decision you make shouldn't be, the goal of right
NL anyway, the truth that science gives us about the natural world. That's the goal here, that's the thing we have certain yes to through reason, rationality is gonna. Give you the most accurate information about how things are that's available to us and then it's your job to go out use information and actually do something with it will. Kircher Guard was just the beginning. This critical look at reason that would eventually to the malaise of the early twentieth century began to be critical of the scientific method is well more specifically a few import questions, and here they are when we arrive at a scientific understanding about something and understanding allows us to manipulate the natural world to benefit people. Can we say that science is accessing the objective truth of reality and what I mean is: can we say that science is at least in some way, communicating with some intrinsic structure of the universe
after all, why would it be so repeatable in a lab setting, if it weren't sure, maybe our understanding of it? Isn't it asked if we still have many more years ahead of us to conduct more science, but there must be at least something about the truth that were touching. But on the other hand, when philosopher started asking these questions about what we really doing when we conduct science, what they started to realise is that there are aspects of science that are inextricably relative to the culture the science is produced in the best way of ever seen. This dynamic explained is by the philosopher Richard roaring, so I'll try to summarizes main points. The best I can hear think of the birth existence and reproduction of scientific ideas. The same way you would think about the birth existence and reproduction of species in terms of natural select
So for thousands of years it was believed that the universe was designed by a grand designer, and there were many arguments. Philosophers had for this, not the least of which was just look around you. How convenient I drink water and there's water. All around that. I exist in this very small range of temperatures and weather patterns. Exactly what the world is around me. The point was, but how could you not think that this wasn't a celestial hands your case, designed with your survival in mind, an end for thousands of years. That was the default church had the Spirit, I think that came along every now and then in it, but every time the onus was on them to prove why this thing, we had any merit at all, given the fact that it was so contrary to our deepest intuitions about reality. Will you know the story? The theory of natural selection offered an alternative. This was a theory that explained how things could seem perfect
we designed for environments they were in, but the reality was that all the beings that didn't correspond with the environment died before reproducing will scientific ideas exist in an environment as well? That is the set of scientific and cultural biases that they were produced in the scientific theories that correspond with these biases subsist they're rewarded with tenure. They managed to reproduce, there's a sense in which, if it's slightly different culture had come to pass the way we scientifically understand things with slightly changes. Well, there's a sense in which, if a completely different culture and come to pass just as different creatures would have been able to gain tenure in a Lastly, changed environment, a completely different way of scientifically categorizing the world could have emerged, so this in no way takes away from the utility of scientific ideas, but this does start to raise a very important question to the thinkers during the late nineteenth century roared he puts it. This way quote
are the longest lasting and most frequently relied upon theory stable, because they match a stable reality or because scientists get together to keep them stable, as politicians get together to keep existing political arrangements intact and quote. The answer to this question makes a giant difference when it comes to how you view the findings of science, the difference. The answer to this question makes is actually very similar to the way post maternity, look at the history of philosophy in our series on shield to lose. What is philosophy Yes. Well, it's not an act of discovery. It's an act of creation, in other words, philosophers when doing their work are not discovering the intrinsic structure of the universe, rallies far too chaotic to ever be able to do something like that. The more accurate analysis of what's going on would be. That philosophy is an act of creation, philosophers create systems of concepts, it give us one version of reality
one perspective that might be useful to us. What a very similar charges being levelled here about the history of science. Science is not disguise worrying and accessing the intrinsic structure of the universe. Science is creating one version of understanding what we have access to and what necessary
we go along with that is. This understanding is always relative to the perspective of the observer, which is always a person who is also embedded in a set of cultural biases and a current set of scientific paradigms that their time accepts and proceeds from. So, if your philosopher, in the early twentieth century that happens to see signs in this way, the impact this has on how you view, essentially last two hundred years of western democracy becomes horrifying, because he instantly realised that this problem you have with science, is in actuality a problem with reason itself. So at this point in the story, rationality itself starts to come under fire and some of these critiques are actually reworking of older critiques. Of reason. For example, Edmund Burke, spooks several times about how, when it comes to the progression of human thought, but more specifically, when it comes to how we should structure our societies, you never want to fully commit your strategy to rational analysis because
reasons why you would want to do that, but one of the big ones, he would say is look when you decide that you're gonna determine which thoughts are legitimate or not base on purely rational analysis, what you see when you actually put that into practice in the world is that you can basically find a way to rationalize anything. Look no further than your own personal life. Are proof of this fact. How many times have you reason to a conclusion about something and still been wrong, you know somebody that made a big mistake in their life and after the fact they thought about what happened. And they found a million ways to rationalize it to themselves and others, and it makes perfect sense to every one why they did it, but nonetheless it's obvious to everyone that they still made a huge mistake seat. This is an important distinction to draw about rational analysis when it comes to your personal life. If you decide to take a purely rational approach to something- and you end up with problems
it's no big deal. You really only hurt yourself there, but on a societal level should we be using a purely rational approach when it comes to determining the legitimacy of thoughts? The bigger question here, the concerns this debate between these two groups should thoughts be considered to be accessing the intrinsic structure of the universe, simply because, they passed the test of human reason, because human reason is always doing its work in the parameters of human ignorance and that human? That's omnipresent throughout that whole process is always subject to cultural limitations. Just like we experience time and it's not like we're a bunch of giant clocks walking around our experience of time, is relative to the perspective of the observer here philosophers
early twentieth century, saying that reason and the criteria for what makes something reasonable or not are also relative to the observer, not should be said. Nobody not on either side is trying to do away with reason nobody's trying to do away with science there trying to do away with what they see as dogma or the idea that what reason in science is providing us is access to certainty. This is why Nita thought people
can't at the beginning, the enlightenment missed out on a big opportunity that could have been the moment when they realise that certainty about things shouldn't have ever been the goal. In the first place, we should value reason which add value science, but not deify them. We should understand them for what they are there. Not discovering anything, the creating something that subtle distinction may not seem like much, but it actually has massive effects on how things play out in the world, and this is ultimately why people care so much about this, because, if you're one of the philosophers in the early twentieth century, that thinks reason and science or relatives of the culture there conducted in and not objectivity than one of the first critiques you have to have about the enlightenment is at the age of reason might have been a horrifying period in human history, where we used reason to justify cultural imperialism, because when real
and become something that's capitalized. Then it becomes the standard against which every society is judged. See to these critics. What happened at the beginning of the enlightenment is we made this bold proclamation that the best way to organise the relationship between government and citizen is reason, and this bold proclamation a major shift, not only in the way the western world typically structured, their states, but also in how the citizens saw their role in the political process. This is the birth of the individual in modern western culture. We'll talk about it more on next episode when we go deeper into the work of LEO Strauss, but it sent this is the moment when societies in the West move away from teleology and societal roles and move instead towards rational individualism. This is yet another criticism of the age of reason from around this time period, by the way that rationalism
when applied to the political process, necessarily moose, thinking towards a focus on the individual, and it's this shift towards the individual person as a focal point? That's responsible phrase and trees long progression of people becoming more and more narcissistic and self centered? If that's a modern criticism, this is the origins of it. But again will talk more about that next episode back to the primary point, though, rationality to these critics leads to cultural imperialism. One Why did the societal level? Because, if rationality is relative to the culture, its being used in and things like rational debates are the way that we determined political legitimacy than what the goals of the enlightenment produce. Our societies then appoint themselves as judge and execution of the rest of the world based on their own narrow parameters, think about it. They get to decide the definition of what's rational or irrational based on their own cultural me
up, and then they get to slap on their world police badge and be the moral arbiter of everyone else, the rest of the world constantly under this magnifying glass. Of their own version of rationality and at this point, the default way to view all other cultures becomes comparing them too this rational ideal that we set up. How much do they deviate from the. Ideal society that we determine the values of to the critics that becomes the ultimate new quest. When dealing with other cultures, knowing that, if at any point a culture becomes to quote irrational and how they ve set up their society in relation to us, rationality can also become the justification for invasion. See that's also one of the problems. The early twentieth century thinkers were starting to have with reason. Reason, as it turns out, is not this sort of a historical, a cultural objective tool for arriving at fact
about things. The results of rational analysis were varying to such a large extent. Societies were using the guise of reason to justify such massively different conclusions. These philosophers started to think that maybe David Hume was right all along Humes Fork or Humes guillotine as its often called the central thesis being that you cannot possibly derive and ought from an is no matter how optimistic thinkers were at the beginning of the enlightenment, no matter how much they thought reason could eventually provide us with objective morality, the more that science and rationality were left to do their work. The more it became clear to these thinkers in the early twentieth century that that was never gonna happen. The more the political process focused on the individual and tried to use the results of sir.
And to arrive at values about how to structure our societies and how people fit into them in all sorts of other stuff, the more the goals of the enlightenment were left to play out the more it became clear that when you try to force reason to come up with objective values about anything you're doomed to failure, because to these thinkers, that's just not something rational analysis is capable of doing and it's easy to get mixed up, because we get values from rational analysis, see that's the problem here. Rational analysis can create values, because rational analysis always has cultural values embedded into it. But in order to justify any of those values, it needs to use the results of science, and modern science has to assume value neutrality in its work. This became a big problem from a dirty. This became the fate of science in the early twentieth century. Political landscape. Science cannot provide us with values on its own. The only thing I can do is
serve as a tool a tool to justify values that are smuggled into it by culture all the while wearing that costume of value neutrality. This will be another thing that we expand on moving forward in our series on 20th century political philosophy. You know the goal of this episode was to put you in the shoes of one of these early 20th century thinkers and understand why so many of them had such a problem with the legacy of the enlightenment, And I looked despite having not put out an episode in awhile and actually pretty deep into the riding phase of this entire series. The front loaded nature of that work is actually why haven't put something out for a while I've been doing a lot of other work, not my health. For once. That's good news, I guess, but I just want to say that from that future vantage point I was looking back and I felt an episode like this was crucial when it came to where we're going in the twentieth century. So hopefully, oh. Thank me later. Maybe the best place to end today is back in ancient Greece. This this tension between
post modernity and modernity just saturate our modern discourse, it seems like he can't turn on any form of media for more than five minutes about being reminded of this battle. That's going on. You know it's actually pretty amazing to see like people talk about living throughout different points in history as the things they saw thinking how lucky you are you get to turn on a screen and at any moment you can watch as two people argue with each other. There are living completely different, universes, pretty cool stuff, and this battle by people in the media is often cited as something that is a bad thing for society in a they say. This is a sign that we're living in some pretty dark times right now. Some people go so far as to say this is a catastrophe. Like to which the world's never seen who knows what's gonna happen when people can even agree on some of the most basic ideas that make up their worldviews, how can we even hope to have a conversation with each other? Could this series of disagreement spell the end of western civilization? Some people may say yes,
I guess I want to bring you a tale of optimism because our allotted philosophers out there. That would say no, this isn't the end of the world. This isn't some unprecedented existential threat that we're facing this isn't even a new disagreement. People are having member Platos die, logs back in the athenian Agora. This battle was going on between heavyweights in the western world all the way back, then, in one corner you had protagonists Godfather Relativism man is the measure of all things. The other corners had Socrates, largely a mouthpiece for Platos ideas, but him arguing for the idea that no there must be some sort of intrinsic structure to the universe that we can access and rational debate is the absolute best tool we have to get their. Some philosophers would say this arguments. Nothing new has been going on for thousands of years. This very well may be one of those debates that just never has a winner. This may be one of those questions that causes arguments on the news as long as humanity's around I have news programmes to argue on. The point is
cultures will ebb and flow with any one time periods answer to this question. One side of this may went out for a while, yet we may have a long period where we believe in the power of faith, to arrive at the objective truth or the power of reason to arrive at the objective, but the other side may for a while. We may have long periods of historic ism or relativism nihilism. Some philosophers would say that look. There are pros and cons to either side gaining a greater level of cultural control, and what we should do is try to understand the times were living in as best we can. The point is some would say that there are many things that may sink the ship of western civilization, but this is not gonna, be it. People have been arguing about this stuff in one form or another for thousands of years, and we survived every example of it. So far, maybe cultures do ebb and
low in their answers to this question, and maybe we are living in a skewed time. Maybe if the popular view is that were currently embroiled in a culture of rampant subjectivity and relativism, maybe the thing we should all be looking out for is what will be the next thing to stick its claim to the objective truth. Thank you for listening I'll talk to you next time,
Transcript generated on 2020-03-23.