The Ends of Rationality

This essay stretches to around 5,500 words, covering the Enlightenment; Descartes, Newton and rise of scientism; Kant and autonomy; the utility of Utilitarianism; the middle class ascendant; rejection of religion in public, but not in private; Burke and the baby with the bathwater hazard; Shelley and Verne as Enlightenment bookends; industrial society and engineered solutions; Liberalism as balancing act; Marxism as counterpoint; Freud as prophet of the self; post-war quests for paradise; Habermas, Popper and the end of certainty; limits of rationality; Western cultural dynamics; the primacy of education; the subversion of freedom of speech; the absence of a neutral press; and the ends of rationality.


The Wikipedia article on rationality opens with the following statement:

In philosophy, rationality is the characteristic of any action, belief, or desire, that makes their choice a necessity.[1]

It is an incomprehensibly tortured sentence offering a nonsensical proposition that might be better used to demonstrate irrationality. First, in ‘philosophy’ rationality has multiple and specifically contextual meanings, and many more meanings in disciplines other than philosophy. Secondly, rationality is a characteristic of human reasons for taking any action, holding any belief, or rationalising any desire, not necessarily or exclusively of the products of those reasons. Thirdly, it is always people who suggest that some choice is in fact no choice, and only one course of action, or one set of beliefs, is necessary or permissible; this is called absolutism or totalitarianism, which are systems of political organisation usually antithetical to rationality. In a contemporary context, as will be illustrated below, rationality is actually a specific acknowledgement of the plurality of ideas and possible courses of action.

If the world’s premier source of ‘information’ can start so misleadingly about the topic, are we justified in assuming that of the myriad ways the words ‘rational’ and ‘rationality’ are used as a justification for arguments, policies, and actions, many of them are in fact not rational at all? The question is a theme pursued in this survey of the ideas that have made rationality a critical concept in Western civilization.

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Integrity, honour … betrayal

integrity-Gargoyle-Magdalen-College

Everyone you know tolerates dishonourable behaviour, a lack of integrity, and expects betrayal.  More people than you might think have absolutely no idea why that is a pathology of self-harm and nihilism.  It is the resignation or surrender to anti-humanism, rationalisation, which actually has nothing at all to do with rationality, and a personal betrayal of yourself, and of all those you say you love, honour and respect.

You doubt me?

What do politicians, business executives, judges, lawyers, police officers, accountants, and priests have in common?  They are in the same profession really.  That profession is lying to us.  Sometimes because lies are what we want to hear from them.  Sometimes because that’s what gets them what they want.  Mostly because they have no conception any more of what is principle, what is integrity, what is honour, what is exception to a rule, and why betrayal is a kind of perverse self-flagellation that is in itself worthy of suspicion.

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