On Having Faith in Reason

Reason-C++ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago, I posted a status on my facebook page asking why we think that reason is a reliable method for discovering truth. I realized my mistake a few hours later. I was making for a reason to regard reason as reliable. Whatever response I got might be interesting, but it would be useless as far as justifying reason is concerned because in order to use reason to conclude that reason is reliable, you have to assume that reason is reliable. And assuming what you wish to prove is reasoning in a circle.

That just stumped me, of course. If I can’t use reason to justify reason, how can I believe, as I do, that reason should be used in discovering truth? How can I believe something for which I have no justification? The obvious answer is that there has to be some way of justifying a reasonable approach that does not beg the question or the question I’m asking makes no sense.

We could posit the hypothesis, “reason is a reliable method for discovering truth” and then proceed to test it. But that would be using reason and assuming that the method is reliable.

What do you think? How would you justify using reason to discover truth? Don’t give me reasons! 😀


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I’m Tracy

10 thoughts on “On Having Faith in Reason”

  1. Reason runs on its track record. We trust it because it has shown itself to work (on a slightly more controversial perspective ‘reason’ evolved because of its success in discovering enough truth to keep us alive. On the evolutionary scale, an interesting competition arises between the partially evolved and partially discovered process of reason and the phenomena of ‘intuition’. However, intuition has a much lower success rate).

    1. I already thought of that. The problem I’m having is that this seems to be using reason to justify reason. We’re thinking:
      If something has shown itself to be successful at discovering truth, it is trustworthy for that purpose
      Reason has shown itself to be successful at discovering truth
      Therefore it is trustworthy.

      That whole process uses our reason, which means that it presumes our reason to be trustworthy, which is what we are trying to show in the first place.

      I do believe that given the (presumed) success of reason at discovering truth, we should think it reliable. But I also see that this begs the question, hence my confusion. It seems I have to do one of the following:
      a. find some other means for justifying reason
      b. accept a question-begging argument as valid
      c. Conclude that I have no justification using reason

      1. It seems like you’ve come up against a lesser form of Godel’s incompleteness theorem. What they basically say is that no system can prove itself consistent.

        I could point out that you are using the umbrella term “reason” as a specific term and dismissing the argument as question begging far too soon. But all that does is push the question back to the types of reasoning.
        What if inductive reasoning could prove deductive reasoning sound, or vis versa? What if critical rationalism gives a good argument for empiricism? What if our five senses validate empiricism?
        These are all “reason”, but each is different from the other. What if different types of reason support each other?

      2. Well, it depends on how they support each other. If it’s in a circle e.g. A supports B, B supports C, C supports D and D supports A, our problem is still there. If it’s in a line, however, i.e. supports B, B supports C and C supports D, we’ll still need justification for D. And D couldn’t be justified by A, B or C. D could be properly basic, of course.

      3. So far that I can see, the fact that reason tells us things that we can build on is, firstly, consistently the case and, secondly, exactly what we are trying to use reason for.

        So even if it’s unfounded, it is fit for purpose.

        I know that is unsatisfying. But Godel’s incompleteness theorems are not something we’re going to over turn.

  2. Isa 1:18 Come now, and let us *reason together*, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
    Isa 26:3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose *mind* is stayed on thee: because he *trusteth* in thee.
    Mt 22:37 Jesus said unto him, *Thou shalt love* the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy *mind*.
    Rom 1:28 And even as *they did not like to* retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a *reprobate mind*, to do those things which are not convenient;
    Rom 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the *renewing of your mind*, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
    1Co 2:16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But *we have the mind of Christ.*
    Eph 2:3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the *desires* of the flesh and *of the mind;* and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
    Col 1:21 And you, that were sometime *alienated and enemies in your mind* by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled

    I could go on, but I think you get the point!

      1. God wants us to use our brain’s thinking capacity, but without submitting to Him our thinking is hopelessly corrupt and untrustworthy.

  3. You can argue yourself blue in the face over whether you can know anything for sure, especially in questioning whether logic itself is reliable. You wind up with Descartes level of confusion when everything can be doubted (he believed; some would disagree, that the thought process of doubt itself couldn’t be doubted and his own existence, as the thinker, was therefore assured)

    I would point out that “reason” or “logic” is not just one concept; it’s a whole toolkit of ways to work out unknown facts from known ones. It’s therefore theoretically possible to justify some elements of logic based on others (just as a tool can be used to fashion other tools, but not to build itself). One example of that Allallt’s suggestion; use inductive logic (we’ve seen it work plenty of times) to justify other areas of reason.

    In general though, you’re correct that you could not establish the validity of logic with logic itself. That’s not actually as big an issue as you may think; things seem to work out if we just assume it’s true.
    The one other possible solution, which if I understand correctly is what Alvin Plantagina (and Cheri) argues, is to take it on faith that God made you to think effectively, and made your thoughts just as reliable as your lungs or your arms. If faith/trust and similar processes for establishing the truth of a matter don’t depend on logic, they could be used to show that logic is valid. Annoyingly, they still couldn’t be used to show that THEY are valid…

    1. Thanks. You have both been very helpful. You helped figure out what part of the question was nagging at me (it was the thing about reason being a toolkit rather than just one thing).

      I do intend to read up on properly basic beliefs, but I intend to do a lot of things. Time seems to be in short supply.

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