Are There Limits to Reason? Part One

This is a question I hear far too often. Here is the first part of my response where I explain that reason has no limits that need concern us. This will be part of a series addressing this issue.

I do not yet know how long it will take for me to get around to covering the rest of this series. We will see. In any case, let us get on with the first part.

What do you mean by that? What are these limits?

Reason is the process by which we look to reality and deduce the facts of reality by applying the laws of logic. It is the only means by which we can reliably learn anything about reality.

Obviously, there are things we cannot know. We can know only what we can deduce from sensory data and its implications. That which is based on our observation of reality. If there is no data pertaining to something, we cannot know anything about it.

For instance, we will probably never know what happened on the 1st of July in that spot right there in Greece in 200BC. We have no way to know that, there is just no data to tell us anything about this. We can take an educated guess that it was probably this or that. But, we will never know what exactly took place.

This is not a problem and it does not present reason with any challenge. Even with reason we are not omniscient, there are things we cannot know. Simply due to lack of data.

That does not mean reason is somehow invalid. Only that it has a foundation — that being the observable facts of reality, that is, evidence. As opposed to unsupported claims for which there is no evidence. And which we have no reason to take seriously.

A part of this issue of data is context. We can only reason within a certain context of knowledge. At any given time we only know so much and we may be missing key facts. But, if we do not know that, how can we be expected to account for that of which we are ignorant?

Take Newtons laws of motion. They work very well at all but the highest speeds. At faster speeds, they are less accurate and we have to apply relativistic equations instead. Does this mean that Newton was wrong and that he should have known better than to come up with equations that break down at higher speeds?

Of course not! Newton had no way to know what would happen at extremely high, relativistic speeds. He had no way to know that his equations might break down at some such speeds. So, he had no reason to think that he should modify his equations to account for them.  Within the context of his knowledge, his equations were entirely reasonable and logical.

It does not indicate that reason is somehow faulty. It shows that reason is contextual. That is, it depends upon context. It shows that one can only apply reason to what they know, to the data available at the time. Which then leads one to certain logical conclusions.

When further data is discovered, then reason may require a reevaluation of one’s earlier conclusions to account for the new data. But, far from invalidating reason, this merely shows that reason is contextual and depends on the context of one’s knowledge.

What is logical depends on the context of one’s knowledge. One cannot be expected to account for what he does not know about. That would be equivalent to making up data and that is not reason. That is the antithesis of reason.

If more data is discovered, if further knowledge is developed, then reason is self-correcting. It will account for new data and correct itself to better account for the data.

It is widely asserted that reason is limited because it depends on sensory data, which is itself limited. This claim has no validity whatsoever. Our senses are not agents of distortion. They give us data as it is. It might not match what we expect reality to look like, but, they nonetheless show us reality as it is and have no powers of distortion.

Besides, how could one demonstrate that? How could one hope to prove that the senses are invalid? If the senses are invalid, how would one know? One would have no ability to know that. Since everything we know about reality starts with what we sense about reality. If we cannot trust our senses, how would we know that our senses cannot be trusted?

No, we would not be able to know anything. Not even that we cannot trust our senses! There would be no such thing as knowledge, concepts or any ideas at all if we did not have some contact with reality as it really is.

So, the claim that our senses are deceptive is self-refuting. Since if it was true we would never know it and for us to know it, it would have to be false!

So much for that attack on reason…

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