Sunday, November 04, 2018

Reason and the “pre-logical”

I think the following are distinct but interrelated concepts: that which is (i) rational, (ii) a-rational (or non-rational), (iii) irrational, and (iv) supra- or para-rational. However, typically we think only of rationality and its converse, irrationality. In examining religious doctrine and religious experience— and perhaps other religious phenomena—for example, we may find occasions when it helps to describe and distinguish that which we are examining not merely according to whether or not it can be characterized as rational or irrational but probably and more precisely as non-rational and/or supra-rational (the latter involving transcendence but necessarily the negation of ‘rationality’ or that which is rational). Among (at least some) philosophers, there appears to be a tendency to think that which is not rational is thereby (even if only by default) irrational, ignoring the two other possibilities cited above. Incidentally, my motivation for making this point appears to overlap a bit with the apparent reasons that prompted the late A.C. Graham to have a collection of articles posthumously published under the title, Unreason within Reason: Essays on the Outskirts of Rationality (Open Court, 1992) [the subtitle was not Graham’s, as David Lynn Hall explains in the Foreword].

In particular, Graham’s use of the notion of the pre-logical captures some of what is meant by the “non-rational” and the “para-rational.”  One should not think of the prefix in pre-logical as meaning or implying something that is historically and philosophically inferior to that which comes after it, namely, the logical. According to Graham, we should consider that thinking which is pre-logical in the sense that it functions, say, as a presupposition, an axiomatic assumption, a tentative presumption, or even as an intuitive or axiological foundation (one that is, however, fallible and revisable), in other words, that “which reasons depends if it is to have anything but its own malfunctions to test,” thereby viewing reason itself “from a wider perspective.” 

In a summary of John Dewey’s thought in this regard, Hilary Putnam writes: “we can only start from where we are, where we are includes both our sufferings and enjoyments (our valuings) and our evaluations, the latter coming from both our community and ourselves.” In other words, reason or rationality itself  arises within the context of our overarching ideals of human flourishing and fulfillment. While “the rational” is rightly focused, philosophically speaking, on inference, demonstration and argument, or that which in principle is amenable to same, the non-rational and the para-rationalGraham’s pre-logical—concerns itself with the evocative, the valuational, the emotional (while emotions have a cognitive dimension and can be judged in their expression as either rational or irrational, in themselves they are neither rational nor irrational), or what Nicholas Rescher terms “inexplicable facts” or “unexplained explainers” (or, more broadly, the existential) on or from which all reasoning takes place. Inductive reasoning, fact/value entanglement, questions of value and interpretation, questions of consciousness (or personal awareness), intentionality, rhetoric, aesthetic experience, among other things, compel us to cross our conceptual, linguistic (or discourse) and pragmatic boundaries between the non-rational, the rational (and irrational), and the supra-rational, thus, in the best instances, cross-fertilizing and enriching these respective conceptions ... and, in turn, the boundaries between reason or philosophy and psychology. Our brief sketch of this circumscription or simply more modest picture of rationality or reason in no way serves to diminish its necessity or significance for philosophy or its role in our daily lives.


Post a Comment

<< Home