Thinking About the New: Irrationalism and Rationalism

I am going to jot these thoughts down so I don’t forget them, but I would like to return to them at some later time in a more defensible, rigorous form.

I’m thinking about the relationship of rationalism and the possibility of new modes of thought and new concepts.  Rationalism in Aristotelian form says we should think something is true if it falls under a rule.  We should think Socrates is mortal if we know that all men are mortal and Socrates is a man.

Irrationalists, or the foes of rationalists, raise the objection — what about those things that are true but that we don’t have a rule for?  What about the hill that we need to venerate although we have no rule of the form all hills need to be venerated?

The rationalist seems like he always has the upper hand over the irrationalist because he can say: Fine.  What about that hill?  Why do you want to venerate it?  And the irrationalist the moment he starts to answer the question — it is old, it is beautiful, it gives us a feeling of the numinous — seems to be supplying the rule. Venerate those hills that are old and beautiful and give us a feeling of the numinous.

The rationalist seems to win.  Until we bring time into our calculations.  Because go back to the very first person who ever experienced love — that ancient caveman who first fell in love, or perhaps loved his parents, and thought to respect them rather than put them out for the hyenas.  This caveman had no concept to explain his response.  He was essentially a prophet.  He was irrational at the time. But he is rational now.  Because time brings us more concepts.  The human story continues and develops.

The irrationalist is the spokesperson for the as-yet-unconceptualized possibility.


4 thoughts on “Thinking About the New: Irrationalism and Rationalism

  1. Ultimately, all thinking and all life come down to choice: What kind of people do we want to be? What kind of community do we want to help create by our actions?

    Even rationalists accept some things without proof, such as logic and induction. The question is not “will we accept some things without proof?” We must. The questions are: Which things? How do we explain our choices, or do we? How do our choices work out for us? Do we and our communities survive and prosper, or do we wither and die?

    It’s only after we’ve made our fundamental choices that logic and rules come into play.

    The caveman who first showed kindness and mercy made a choice to do it. We agree with his choice, at least in principle, if inconsistently in practice. Klingons might not agree with it. That’s their choice, with a corresponding kind of society.

    I want people to make choices that are likely to maximize human health, happiness, and well-being. I can’t prove that those choices are “correct” in any abstract sense, but I would still prefer that everyone made them. If they do, then I can use logic and evidence to argue that some courses of action work better than others at achieving the goals they chose.

  2. “We should think Socrates is mortal if we know that all men are mortal and Socrates is a man.”

    I think this is the problem with rules when solely theoretical or not demonstrated by practice; swans, at one time, *should* all be white by the same logic.

    “This caveman had no concept to explain his response. He was essentially a prophet.”

    I think this relates, in some degree, to my most recent post (‘recent’ used liberally). I agree that he is essentially a prophet– although that may have all sorts of connotations– in that what in fact creates the rule amongst other things consists just in venerating what they did venerate; or, in the caveman’s case, his actions were as much a part of creating the concept as whatever other factors contributed to him acting as he did.

    Thinking somewhat farcically, if a group decided to create a rule to ‘always eat pizza on Tuesdays’ and the first time the rule is implemented they, whether by error or otherwise, eat it on the Thursday, they could either ‘right’ the rule on every Tuesday following or follow other paths that, in hindsight, would seem to accord with the rule. They could continue to eat the pizza on Thursdays; one hundred years later, it might puzzle an outside group why ‘Tuesday pizzas’ were eaten on Thursdays but the rule / tradition persisted. There might be an account of why the tradition is what it is or there might not be.

    Alternatively, the pattern could be created where ‘Tuesday pizza’ is eaten on an alternating Thursday/Tuesday basis.


    Maybe I have gone too Kripkenstein-ian but it strikes me as relevant in any event.

    • thanks. I think these are good things to worry about. Rules and concepts don’t apply themselves; we need to share an attunement to apply them. Nevertheless we do apply them in many cases; even formulating the “how do we go on, way number 1 or way number 2” (plus or quus) requires that we can get a grip on there being two possible ways to go on.

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