British and American conservatism, foundations of the French Revolution, Is reason all humanity needs, Is reason dangerous, Limits of Reason, Origin of capitalism, What started the Age of Reason, What was the Age of reason
Judgement is not logic, and observation never sees all. Between the lines of reason lies the vast expanse of man’s ignorance.
The ability to reason, to use logic to think beyond what’s for lunch or avoiding being lunch, is one of the fundamental qualities of being human. Reason is necessary to build cities and develop tools. Human intellect has created philosophy and art as well as computers and space shuttles. It is what we use to assess the environment around us and to make informed decisions. While all this is true, experience has also shown that it is a short trip from reason to the tortured thoughts of an insane mind.
We should never forget, there was a time, before the Age of Reason, when superstition ruled over intellect. After Descartes men turned to tools like the Scientific Method, experimentation and observation to make great strides understanding the physical world. New laws of nature were discovered and mathematics advanced. It seemed as though through the pure application of intellect all problems could be solved. Of course, two plus two equals four does nothing to decipher the human spirit or bring anyone closer to understanding emotion.
What students of reason are loathe to admit is the Age of Reason was preceded and predicated on the Reformation. It was the divisions created by the Reformation that instituted Free Will as both a religious concept and a individual right. It also spread literacy and with it ideas. Ideas that people now had the right to share. It was also no accident that the economic and scientific center of Europe moved from the old Catholic dominated south to the new protestant dominated north. In fact the greatest advancements in government, economics and freedom had Reformation roots and happened outside the bounds of human reason.
Additionally, the foundations of a new world order was founded in Great Britain. A place with its feet planted on a twin heritage. One the Anglo tradition of trial by jury and Rule of Law and the other a civil government of Roman origin. With the infusion of protestant ethics a nation was born that would change the world. A nation proud of English freedom and common law. One whose economic system grew organically into the most powerful force the world had ever seen. Great Britain in turn gave birth to America who advanced the concepts of freedom and Rule of law even further, surpassing the motherland in every way. In a little over a hundred years after the founding of the United States the world had advanced more than it had in the previous five thousand. Both of these societies used experience, tradition and free exchange as the foundation for what they achieved. This was a society that readily acknowledge their concepts are not mathematically calculable or provable by applied theorem. They sought the collective memory and wisdom of the human race and used them to build a new system of government. They also understood that a moral society most have a basis to build its morality on; that a people who do not embrace the rights of others as much as their own are not fit to be free. They also accepted the social responsibility is an individual trait essential to a culture’s survival and that the only social contract that matters is the one between the present generation and those that come before and after it.
In France there developed a different view of the world, one that seemed more in tune with the rational thoughts of the Age of Reason. It was the frontier of a philosophical war, a border land between old Europe and the new. Devoid of the Anglo traditions and virtually untouched by the fervor of the Reformation, it became a breeding ground of a purely reason based view of government and rights. To the French philosophers central planning was essential part of a modern society. To them, the purpose of government was to care for society; creating a directed and logical social order in which human rights are what the government owes its people and absolute loyalty the price they must pay. A new religion of reason was born whose prime tenant is that government is the communal soul of society, and people its wards. Of all the reason based philosophers it was a man called Jean-Jacques Rousseau that would make the biggest impact, his work “on social contract” would become a basis for a whole new forms of government. Socialism, Communism, Fascism and modern liberalism all springing from this one root.
From the French Revolution‘s Reign of Terror to the killing fields of Cambodia and beyond, the tortured application of reason to the rule of man has had a devastating effect. Although a society based on experience, tradition and the knowledge of the ages is inherently flawed, so are human beings. It is the imperfect state of mankind that makes application of reason alone to the human condition both illogical and inhumane. Something the left and some libertarians do not comprehend. The logic of a human mind is finite in both capability and the facts it has at hand. Human interaction on the other hand involves an infinite number of constantly changing unknowns. Only the man who is true student of human nature and embraces the collective wisdom that has come before can make sense out of this confusion.
It is undeniable that reason, as a tool, has proven invaluable to mankind. A compass that has navigated man through the crevices, valleys and mountains of our existence. The sextant by which we have found our way to the modern world. Even so, a compass is not a map nor is a sextant of much use without stars to go by. For mankind, experience is its shinning star and the wisdom of the ages our map. Reason without experience is not only useless, it is dangerous. Akin to using a blind man as a guide in a mine field. It gives a false sense of security that forms a type of ignorance that is worse than superstition.
As engineers are often guided by practice and science by “working theories” mankind must reach back into its common heritage, experience and yes traditions as they reason what to do next. To do any less is to invite tragedy, something you would of thought mankind would of learned by now.
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