Reason: The Moral Foundations of Rationality
Reason is essential for living our day to day life and social practice. Reason as a human faculty or as a mental function, and all that essentially pertains to it, is perhaps in no danger.
Reason here refers to the capacity to apprehend truth itself, as truth is displayed in any true thought, judgement or statement. That capacity involves, among other things, the capacity to grasp logical relations and thereby appreciate evidence for truth. The primary function of reason is to see truth as a property of judgement or representation and to see the simpler laws of truth that govern truth-values as necessarily distributed over judgements that are logically related to one another by such relations as strict implication and logical contradiction. The ideal of the intellectual, artistic and academic life as the pursuit of truth, or of just being thoroughly logical, is far beyond being in “deep trouble” in the university today, and in many places is approximating the status of a “lost cause.”
Of course truth is inseparable from the being (reality, existence) of that which the true judgement is about. So reason is intimately linked to the comprehension of being, of how things are. It is a capacity for insight into reality or what is.
Being reasonable, or living the life of reason, as here explained must be incorporated into our moral identity, must be a part of what we understand as being a good person, if it is the have power to direct our lives and govern our thinking and speaking. Only so can reason survive in the modern university–or anywhere else. Wilful disregard of truth and the laws of truth must also be recognized as expressions of a morally evil will and person, if they are to be routinely excluded from life. Moral evil is hardly ever discussed in academic ethics today, and the same is true of being a good person. Using ones professional vocation as an avenue of moral realization, of becoming and being a good person is even less discussed. But the scientist or journalist who falsifies data to achieve their various ends betrays the goodness of heart which, everyone in their sober and thoughtful moments recognizes as the essence of moral goodness. And such betrayal is hardly less evident in the teacher or scholar–or parent or pastor–who is careless or intentionally negligent of truth and sound reasoning and method, in order to secure ends or outcomes that they cherish for other reasons than their intellectual integrity.
Reason is therefore indispensable to knowledge, which, it was thought in other times, the university and the intellectual life was primarily about. No longer. We now have research universities, but not knowledge universities. Our goal is ‘information’ and its use, or possibly only novelty.