TagReason

Reason Is Used for Justification, Not to Determine Truth

Protagoras

For centuries thinkers have assumed that the uniquely human capacity for reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth. Rationality allowed a solitary thinker to blaze a path to philosophical, moral and scientific enlightenment.

Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth.

The idea, labeled the argumentative theory of reasoning, is the brainchild of French cognitive social scientists, and it has stirred excited discussion (and appalled dissent) among philosophers, political scientists, educators and psychologists, some of whom say it offers profound insight into the way people think and behave. The Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences devoted its April issue to debates over the theory, with participants challenging everything from the definition of reason to the origins of verbal communication.

New York Times: Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth

(Thanks Bill)

This evolutionary psychology explanation is (like most evol pysch) speculative. Regardless of whether reason evolved “for” the purposes of argument, or merely reached a point where it was flawed but “good enough” we may never know. But I do think most people use reason more to defend their positions rather than to arrive at accurate positions (what does that mean for me, and my arguments?) To quote Michael Shermer in Why People Believe Weird Things, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons” (via that Cracked article).

See also Systematic Ideology and Cultural Cognition.

Sanal Edamaruku’s quest to bring reason to India

Pandit Surender Sharma attempts to kill Sanal Edamaruku

Rationalising India has never been easy. Given the country’s vast population, its pervasive poverty and its dizzying array of ethnic groups, languages and religions, many deem it impossible.

Nevertheless, Mr Edamaruku has dedicated his life to exposing the charlatans — from levitating village fakirs to televangelist yoga masters — who he says are obstructing an Indian Enlightenment. He has had a busy month, with one guru arrested over prostitution, another caught in a sex-tape scandal, a third kidnapping a female follower and a fourth allegedly causing a stampede that killed 63 people. […]

His organisation traces its origins to the 1930s when the “Thinker’s Library” series of books, published by Britain’s Rationalist Press Association, were first imported to India. They included works by Aldous Huxley, Charles Darwin and H.G. Wells; among the early subscribers was Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.

The Indian Rationalist Association was founded officially in Madras in 1949 with the encouragement of the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who sent a long letter of congratulations. For the next three decades it had no more than 300 members and focused on publishing pamphlets and debating within the country’s intellectual elite. […]

Exposing such tricks can be risky. A guru called Balti (Bucket) Baba once smashed a burning hot clay pot in Mr Edamaruku’s face after he revealed that the holy man was using a heat resistant pad to pick it up.

Times: Sceptic challenges guru to kill him live on TV

Previously:

Atheism = 1, Magick = 0

The legacy of Robert Anton Wilson

Jesse Walker’s wonderful obit for Robert Anton Wilson at Reason.

Also, here’s a post to Reason’s blog about Wilson’s influence in libertarian thinking. I chime in in the comments with some quotes by RAW about socialism, not so much to refute the idea that he was a libertarian, but to show the nuance of his political thinking.

R.U. Sirius’s Revolution Party platform was a great attempt at creating a reasonable fusion of libertarian and left-wing political thinking, though I think it was ultimately too heavy on goals and too short on solutions (Note: I once tried to found an official Washington State Revolution Party based on R.U.’s platform).

RAW’s diverse literary legacy includes the likes of Grant Morrison, James Curcio, and Damon Lindelof… but what about his political legacy? I’ve been impressed with the balanced thought of a lot of people at Reason Magazine (especially Walker), and I think Abe Burmeister is one of the most insightful commentators around (I’ve plugged his Nomad Economics book before). And of course, Ken Macleod. Any other “non-Euclidean” political thinkers I’m forgetting?

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