A Reasonable Balance

Having talked about the limits of reason the other day, an anonymous commentator made the valid point that abandoning reason entirely was not a very clever thing to do, and asked a good question:

Nothing in the human experience should be elevated to the position of a god including 'reason' but with what, and how do we find our way among those ideas that could very quickly produce a world full of magic potions and snake oil?

I've been thinking about it for a day or two, and want to answer it out here on the verandah rather than away in the back room.

Historically there was an attempt to abandon the dominance of reason very soon after The Enlightenment: this was the Romantic movement. This attempt to find truth and meaning in nature and natural processes unfettered by sterile reason gave rise to some of the world's great artistic and literary treasures. Like anything pursued in isolation and without counterbalancing emphases Romanticism became turgid and even dangerous. The tug of war between reason and its competitors as arbiters of truth continues - dressed up sometimes in appeals to earlier, purer forms of Christianity ("New Testament faith" Celtic spirituality etc) sometimes in cheap and cheerful books about left and right brains or wet and dry economics.

So, in answer to Anonymous' question, about what can be used to evaluate ideas and prevent quackery and trickery and internetical knavery, might I suggest the following list:





These should enable us to meet the demands of those three orders that Diderot says we are subject to: natural, social and religious. But of course we in the Anglican Church don't have to look so far. Most confirmation class graduates will tell you all about the three legged stool the vicar drew on the whiteboard by way of illustration that our church strives to keep a balance between three things:



The current divisions in the church show what troubles can ensue when one or more legs is ignored. Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! I think either list would be fine, as long as it's adhered to although I do wish we had thought to include beauty in our Anglican triumvirate.


Anonymous said…
Since you have so outrageously declared my anonymity from the veranda I feel compelled to answer in the back room as it were.

I shall do this by respectfully helping you with your list. I would combine your two lists and add – Love, Reflection / Meditation and Common Sense.

Now a wise old sage once pointed out to me that “Common sense tells us that the world is flat” but I think after reading my devastating rejoinder he feels more at ease with the concept.

The resulting list would be Beauty, Morality, Tradition, Love, Reflection / Meditation and Common Sense – Quite a good little list really.
Anonymous said…
By the way I added Reflection / Meditation as a balance to Reason. We must make room for that rich vein of treasure from the subconcious (and other places) which provides the counterpoint to Reason.
Anonymous said…
And yes, what would our combined new list help us to do?

"Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere" - Spinoza
daniel said…
Anonymous, six is getting rather long I feel. I'll shorten it:


That encompasses everything really.
VenDr said…
Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere

....not to ridicule, lament,
or detest, but to understand

Perhaps it would although I'm with Daniel - the list needs to avoid circumlocution and repetition. It needs to be shorter.
VenDr said…
Wisdom, Compassion. OK. I might like to add beauty. It may well be implied in the others but I'm with Keats on this one, and I'd like to make sure.

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know

When comparing the Anglican list with the Buddhist one, perhaps there is this difference: your list is ethical - that is, it is about what you do with the truth. My list is cognitive. It is about where truth is to be found - or how it is evaluated as truth.
daniel said…
Wisdom defines what the truth is, and could be stated as beauty, as in truth. True beauty, particularly the recognition of it, is an expression of wisdom.

Compassion is right action, or how to reach truth. On a relative level, compassion is indeed ethical because initially we must work from a framework as we lack the wisdom to know what is right.

However, ultimately compassion and wisdom are inseparable - compassion is the expression of pure wisdom, and wisdom the definition of pure compassion.
Anonymous said…
There is a very thoughtful discussion of the relation between faith and reason in John Paul's 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio:
Para. 105 citing Bonaventure gives some salutary warnings about the limitations of intellectual questing that both exalts and at the same time overly confines the exercise of human reason. Benedict XVI also reminded us, in his (in)famous Regensburg lecture of Sept 12, 2006, that reason (logos) is integral to understanding God's ways - something the Romantics with their cult of nature hadn't grasped in their reaction against Deism and stony rationalism.
A child of the Reformation gratefully accepts Reason as God's gift in man, that must still be open to the redeeming and correcting grace of Christ. The Christian faith is not a philosophy but it does have a symbiotic relationship with Reason, and the two can and should enrich each other.
Anonymous said…
Hmm, I think I will stick with my list of 6. Six spanners are always more useful than two.
Anonymous said…
"Hmm, I think I will stick with my list of 6. Six spanners are always more useful than two."

A spanner is not much use for cutting bread, putting in screws, or removing bottle corks. Better to think of an all-in-one Swiss army knife: which is what Reason (ratio/logos) is - the comprehensive faculty of loving and seeking the truth that engages the whole person. Reason and Revelation both come from God and both assist us in directing our lives back to Him. Reason (in its analytical and metaphysical modes) helps us to understand the implications and foundations of the biblical Revelation, while Revelation draws out Reason to its true fulfillment.
Anonymous said…
Hmmm, you maybe right there. I think I will op for 6 swiss army knifes of different sizes each with spanner attachments.

But we are nearly at bursting point here - the metaphor / analogy is pushed almost to its limit!
VenDr said…
Before we leave the metaphor there's one more saying that seems to fit:
"To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail".

To a person with an apriori commitment to revelation and reason, the world will be seen through those filters, and because the world appears as revelation and reason presents it to the mind, the primacy of revelation and reason will be reinforced; which will encourage him further to see the world through those filters and...

I can see that there is a much broader view of reason being used here than is customary. In fact it looks like that spoken of by Rowan Williams in This article although Rowan does draw very different conclusions.

My own view is that consciousness is multi faceted and multidimensional, and is interacting with such an extraordinarily diverse reality that no single cognitive process is capable of forging a coherent view of either the self or the universe. I think the first list I outlined above is descriptive of how my mind works.
Tillerman said…
You said "To a person with an apriori commitment to revelation and reason, the world will be seen through those filters."

I agree with that. So it is perhaps reasonable that I combined the lists and added two more elements to make a list of six - the broader the range of filters the better, thus allowing for the way other minds work as well.

---- I was surprised that Love was not on any of the two lists you posted.
VenDr said…
It's Pilate's question. What is truth? How do we arrive at it?

The answer of the Enlightenment is "by reason". I say this answer is partial and ignores some kinds of truth. Reason used alone gives us a shallow and potentially dangerous partial revelation of the truth. Hence the suggestion of other avenues: Beauty, faith, morality. Another poster would probably suggest that these three could be derived from reason, properly understood and properly applied. I think not, but the point behind his suggestion: that some things on the grand list are derivable from others is a good one. I guess what we are looking at here is primary processes, not the secondary ones which derive from them.

Now as to love. As you know from your interest in CS Lewis, love is a complicated business. You are dealing with (at least) four things, not just one - and at it's higher levels love is more a matter of will and intent than of emotion. And each of these four is not really a single thing, so much as a complicated web of constituent components. What exactly is a loving action? sometimes it's not easily apparent.Think of the crucifixion for example. To try and decide what is a loving action sometimes requires a great deal of cognition - engaging our reason, our morality,our sense of beauty,all the faith we can muster. So how can love be a primary touchstone of truth?

I think similar considerations apply to Daniel's short list: compassion and wisdom. How do we know which is the compassionate act? How do we know what is the wise course of action? Why by using our reason, faith, morality and sense of beauty of course.
Tillerman said…
So on that basis wouldn't the only primary touchstone be reason? because you would use reason to make judgements about faith, morality and beauty?

Would you consider revelation a secondary process?

My spanners need re forging.
VenDr said…
I don't think so. Not all our perceptions of the universe are reasonable - that is not all derive from reason or are accessible to reason when making judgements of them.

Faith (pisteuo) is not about belief. It is rather a trusting orientation to what is. It is non-rational and sometimes irrational - I can still trust in the goodness of God and the benevolence of the universe even when I find I have cancer. I can make this act of faith because Jesus could trust in the goodness of God even when people were nailing him to a lump of wood. Is there a rational connection between Jesus' suffering and mine? I can't see one, although I can see a faith connection.

Similarly, a moral code - doing what is right by other people - may not necessarily be rational. Rob Hall stayed with his client on Mt Everest ensuring that two lives (his own and his client's) were lost instead of one. Why? It was not an action that could be justified rationally, only morally. Was it the right thing to do? Rationally no, morally yes. Look at the approbrium heaped on climbers who later made the rational decision and left colleagues to die in similar circumstances.

Similarly with Beauty - see how our culture produces rationally sound buildings that are nevertheless hideously ugly and are thus not good. Again think of the pefectly rational but ugly action of our city council in dumping the city's effluent straight into the sea.

Reduce everything to reason (or everything to morality, or beauty, or faith) and you've lost three quarters of the truth.
Tillerman said…
Yes I realise on a re reading of your post above that you have considered this questions.
Three points:

First - if a list was to be presented at a confirmation class, I would provide a six legged stool of primary and secondary processes, in fact perhaps a long form with legs like a centipede.

Second, taking into consideration the real need in certain contexts to use reason in making judgements about love, I think that love often operates beyond our abilities and cleverness with language.
When I am LOVED unconditionaly with all the secondary processes of acceptance,inclusiveness,
respect,the effect is instantaneous,it goes beyond the validation of Reason - I just KNOW.

Third - Paul writes that all things will pass away but love will remain - in one context (on the level of language) this love is a secondary process in another it is THE primary process.
VenDr said…
Yes, that is a very good point about the eternal nature of love - and faith and hope for that matter. I wonder if there is something else going on here though. These three things are subjective. I know when I have love - when I love or I am loved - but I can't ever objectively prove it. Love is subjectively not objectively discerned. Ditto hope and faith.

For a long time I have thought that the most important things in the universe - life and consciousness - are subjective rather than objective phenomena. I suspect that what God is doing with the Universe is using it to produce just these things. Life and consciousness - this is the stuff that it's all about and these can only be known subjectively.

Now I haven't thought this out too carefully, and no doubt someone will drive an 18 wheeler Mack through the holes in what I'm saying here, but it seems that love, faith and hope are aspects of or components of consciousness and this is why they are so important and why they are eternal.

Reason is about objectivity. It is about the stuff that appears to be "out there" and "external" to me. It is almost impossible to be rational about my sense of self - my consciousness. Similarly, tradition, morality, beauty - are about the other. Perhaps these are things which contribute to the building of my subjectively discerned consciousness, but are not actually part of it.
Anonymous said…
Readers might find it useful (as I did) to read John Paul's encyclical on 'Faith and Reason' cited above - not a quick or easy read but very illuminating in showing the mutual relationship of the two as well as their autonomy. It must be recognized that he is using 'Reason' here in a comprehensive way to denote the human faculty for loving and discovering the truth by observing the world and thinking about the realtionships of its parts. This includes the origin of things and their apaprent purpose (teleology) - which is very different from the outlook of, say, Richard Dawkins, who denies that things and beings have any purpose (how could they if there is no designer?) or that Bach's music can be anything more than pleasant sounds.
The Christian faith has *always had to interact with philosophy or reason, right from the days of Paul before the Areopagus. Morality properly understood cannot be contrary to reason, neither can the aesthetic sense, because they have a transcendent direction which has to take us to God. Kant famously tried to make virtue its own reward ('only the good will is good without qualification'), then ended up contradicting himself by having to postulate the existence of God and the afterlife (which his Newtonian reason rejected). The 20th century philosophers of the absurd also tried without success to ward off the inherent nihilism of a world without God. The Reformed philosopher William Lane Craig ('Reasonable Faith') has made this a plank in his apologetic: human beings are inescapable moralizers, but without God morality cannot be anything more than emotivism, however well dressed up.
What JP2 criticized in the encyclical was a narrow conception of reason that reduced it to rationalism, pragmatism or scientism - as we have seen since the Enlightenment. A 'rationally sound building that is hideously ugly' is not a product of reason but a pragmatic reduction thereof.
daniel said…
Might the various Anonymouses like to pick a pseudonym and post under that? It's tricky to follow who's speaking, especially when you start quoting each other! :)
Tillerman said…
Kelvin you made this statement:

"I know when I have love - when I love or I am loved - but I can't ever objectively prove it. Love is subjectively not objectively discerned." and:
"....this is the stuff that it's all about and these can only be known subjectively."

Am I to understand from this that you are implying that nothing can be proved 'a priori' to exist in any objective sense? That everything is a subjective experience.

If this is the case wouldn't it mean that everything that I experience could mean exactly what I want it to mean? and that there is no objective form out there that is a model for things like beauty, morality, love etc

Of course we all discern the world subjectively but doesn't a multitude of subjective comparisons tell us that it is raining outside and that this becomes a criterion driven objective definition?
Tillerman said…
Thankyou Anonymous for this link:


I have read the introduction and the first chapter - plenty to think about there!
VenDr said…
I too am grateful to whoever it was who posted the link to the encyclical on faith and reason. I now know where the Archbishop of Canterbury got his idea for the article I referred to above. It is helpful to note the "broader" and more historic use of the concept of reason and the "narrower" enlightenment use of the term.

Tillerman, I don't mean that nothing can be proved to exist in an objective sense. Of course that is an arguable position, but not a very fruitful one. What I do mean is that amongst the vast range of things that exist, there are some things whose existence is only discerned subjectively. The computer in front of me is objectively discerned by which I mean that Clemency can see the same computer - I can leave it on the desk and it's there when I return, I can weigh it measure it and it always behaves as some identifiable thing "out there." Of course I have a subjective experience of that computer but my experience of it is of something apart from me.

Some things which are just as real as that computer are discerned entirely subjectively. Happiness for example. It's true that I can measure the side effects of happiness in someone, but the actual thing itself is only real, only "there" for the one being happy. Love is one of these subjectively discerned things. Consciousness is another one. I can experience your computer as well as my own one, but although I may know you are conscious.I can never actually experience your consciousness.

This category of things which can only be experienced subjectively contains the most important things in the universe.
Tillerman said…
Thankyou for all that - bear with me a little longer, I am only seeking understanding here.

So on the basis of what you have explained would you say that God is also something that is discerned subjectively in the same subjective sense as love, happiness and consciousness? - do you think it then follows that God is not an objective fact outside of subjective discernment? by our conciousness? ie a function of our consciousness.
VenDr said…
The short answer is yes. God is experienced subjectively. The long answer is it's a bit more complicated than that.

What do we experience when we experience God? I have heard many people describe their experiences of God. Overwhelmingly I think that what they are describing is a personal mental/emotional state which they have managed to produce for themselves (often with skilled help from some person or group or other) and associated with their inner picture of God. Often this self produced experience is a pathway which God uses for God's own purposes, but sometimes (often?) it seems to be something produced for the person's own ends - increasing their spiritual mana, narcotising themselves, whatever.

The real test is how long does this experience influence people? A little bit of God goes a long way. One vision in the temple set Isaiah up for a lifetime. One moment in prayer after a year of preparation set Francis off on the course which changed the course of European history. If people seem to have forgotten all about their great experience and are ready for the next fix a week or two later; or if it seems to have no transforming effect on their lives, then draw your own conclusion.

These are subjective phenomena unfettered by the necessary balance of reason.

But there are experiences which do transform; the I Thou experience spoken of by Rudolph Otto. There is also the thing spoken of by Meister Eckhart and others ; the transcending of personality and the attainment of The Ground. This is not, properly speaking an experience at all but rather the cessation of experience.Or rather it is what lies under all experience. It is subjectively attained.

Eckhart says my ground and God's ground are the same thing. He says that what lies behind the illusion of my own selfhood is the same thing that lies behind the illusion of existence in every thing that is. Subjective? Objective? It all becomes a bit murky at this point because I am trying to describe - ie make objective and discernible - things which can only be known subjectively. In fact the whole idea of subjective and objective become confused, so let's leave it there.
Anonymous said…
Ahhh.... I came back to write what had come to mind out of all of this - and found it.
It is impossible to compare objective and subjective things!
Tillerman said…
I'm not sure what you mean by this. I can compare subjective happiness with the objective reality of a television set, compare them in many ways in fact. A new wide flat screen digitally feed TV may even be a source of happiness for a nanosecond - like most modern gegaws.
Simon said…
I believe that we do indeed need sources of guidance other than reason. The latter depends on us having the necessary facts to make a decision, and all too often these aren't available.

It seems to me that we all have an inner 'knowing' which we need to learn to trust. I have heard it described by the Sanskrit word 'buddhi'. It is this 'knowing' which tells you (as you describe it) 'to trust in the goodness of God and the benevolence of the universe' in spite of your cancer, but it can also be a source of practical guidance about the world.

I like the idea that 'a little bit of God goes a long way' but I don't think it's always true. What do they call that parable: 'the scattering of the seed'? Some fell upon stony ground. It doesn't mean to say it wasn't an authentic seed.

The first time I had what I would call a 'spiritual experience' (a vision of eternity) was very memorable but in practical terms it had very little impact at all. Subsequent revelations have been more effective, but I'm a slow learner. Isaiah was just extremely fertile ground.
VenDr said…
Thanks Simon for two important points:

You are right about the inner knowing. I think this is why the truth always appears to us not so much as new knowledge but as a reminder of something we have always known: there is a sense of deep recognition

Your thought about the seeds is also a good one. It is not so much that the divine spark is inauthentic but that the soil in which it lands is unable to support it. There is a question raised for me in this about the nature of being - the movement from potential to actual.