The Reason of Reason
Author: Scott Cherry

Chapter 11
The Sheer Wonder of Intelligibility

“For this reason I believe that the light of the Sun bears the same relation to things visible as Truth does to things intelligible.”  Roman Emperor Julian (1)

 

In this chapter we shall consider the last axiom on the list in chapter 7, the Law of Intelligibility. That’s what I call it.  And this brings us to the third essential element of the Logos principle.  I suspect this is one that is not usually included in Philosophy or Logic textbooks.  As stated before, axiom #17 describes the brute fact that Reality is largely intelligible to the human mind through our senses and our powers of reason. We can learn and know things about Reality, the universe and the world in which we live.  Or, we can at least believe that we know things enough that there is very strong consensus and we build additional would-be knowledge onto that knowledge that we believe we have: There is a star in space we call the sun that sustains all of life on earth, but it will blind you if you look at it directly for very long. It is the only star in our solar system but there are other stars farther away. When there are things we do not know we can have an awareness of our not knowing them.  At that point we can be content to not know them, or we can have a desire to know them.   The latter, not the former, is what drives science and discovery of all kinds.  That is why Aristotle said that all men desire to know. 

 

Let’s apply this notion of intelligibility to the law of causality.  When we observe something, we first infer from causality that the thing we have observed has an explanation, or a cause.  Let’s say infection.  In the West at least, until the modern era it was common for someone to get a wound that became mortally infected.  Because the nature of infection was not known, it was also common for that infection to cause the loss of life or limb.  But now, because we have antibiotics, infections are far less frequent, and when they do occur they can be treated far more readily to prevent the loss of life and limb, at least in developing countries.  Although we may take it for granted, we should be enormously thankful for antibiotics! 

 

Allow me to surmise that for millennia people have gotten infections for which they have always known there has to be some cause.  Certainly there must always have been people who tried to diagnose infections and their complications, which is nothing less than the attempt to learn the cause of it.  Moreover, every remedy or treatment ever prescribed has been an attempt to change the effects of the cause, or prevent it, if only by avoiding the wound in the first place.  This has been true, no doubt, even when the cause was not known.  Now overlay the human belief in intelligibility.  (Note that I called it a belief, for there is no manual that says unknown things can be discovered to become known things, but people generally believe this, and have always believed it.  We can be confident of this this by observing how people live in accordance with it.  I submit that this is a form of faith, and also hope. I say that because there has been no purely rational justification for this belief; it is somehow programmed into the human psyche, in some cultures more than others).  Because of this belief, humans have always sought to discover the unknown, from the simple to the mysterious.  With respect to infections, and many other diseases, this quest has paid off to the great benefit of humanity in the form of hygiene and antibiotics. 

 

In recent centuries especially, people have believed in the discoverability and intelligibility of the causes of infections; that infections have causes which, as elusive as they have been for eons, could be and should be discovered.  And they were right!  Eventually, with the onset of technological advancements in magnification (also driven by this belief) the microbial world was discovered, and the harmful bacteria responsible for infections.  But how was this possible?  Why should such things as this be intelligible, or subject to human reason?  It is because of the final element of the Logos Principle: Order.

 

In short, I submit that there is order in Reality, and even bacteria are part of that order.  Order is a kind of language, really, and for every language there is an audience or community for which it is intelligible. Humans uniquely comprise this community. The language of order, therefore, is uniquely perceivable, recognizable and attainable to humans because we, above all other creatures, possess the rational capacity to perceive, recognize and attain it.  Order is a uniquely human language that we know and learn from birth to death, enabling us to make sense of things that make up our Reality.  This capacity also enables us to infer and extrapolate from the order that we see to the order that we don’t see but we believe is there.  The quest of humanity is, and has always been, to discover order, and then to build on it.  It is a kind of yearning.  This yearning is not merely a rational thing, it is instinctual.  Even when things are unknown to us, we have an impulse or a hunch that there is more order to discover and that we can discover it with enough time and effort. 

 

We seem to have an indomitable drive to discover that has been demonstrated over time, again and again.  Thankfully, the knowledge that has been gained by discovery is largely cumulative, the capacity for which is one of the extraordinary distinguishing features between humans and animals. This yearning and the drive it produces points to the correspondence between the actual order in Reality and the need for and intelligibility of it within the human psyche.  In other words, the order in Reality is a kind of language that humans uniquely comprehend because it corresponds to a kind of rational order that is innate to humans, the capacity for reason.  Logic is the foundation of the order that is Reason, which also orders the entire universe.  So reason works because logic works; logic works because it is mysteriously programmed into the order of the universe as axioms; humans can comprehend order (i.e. reason) because we too are ordered with the capacity to perceive and utilize order through reason, thus producing even more order.  Reason, logic, and intelligibility are all about order, and order is the product of, well, a Higher Order, or an Orderer. 

 

As you know well by now the argument of this entire book is that the existence of reason and logic are strong evidence for God.  The basic rationale behind this claim is as follows:

 

 

List 3

 

  • In order for reason to be functional, to work, there must be an actual correspondence between what is (i.e. order) and the capacity to perceive and make sense of it; there is.
  • The capacity for reason that defines humanness must possess the consistent power to recognize and interpret the attributes of order abstractly (though not infallibly); it does.
  • Naturalism/materialism as a system of understanding Reality can offer no adequate explanation for the functional and necessary presence of these propositions.
  • Therefore the best explanation for these things is Cosmic, or Divine, Reason, i.e. a rational being that has engineered our Reality so that they are intrinsic to it.

 

If either of the first two propositions were not true then our intuitive confidence in reason would be null and void, and we could know nothing about ourselves and the world around us; what’s more, we could not even believe that we know anything and life ‘as we know it’ would completely break down.  But people do not and cannot function this way, as though reason does not work, especially in the West where science and technology are driven by the notion of correspondence and intelligibility. Oxord philosopher G.K. Chesterton said this:

 

It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" (2)

 

I contend that they both are true.  I generally trust in my power of reason, and that of others, to confirm this, for it is nothing less than reason that leads me to the conclusion.  In other words, my capacity of reason enables me to support and verify both of these premises leading to the conclusion that reason works. This may seem like circular reasoning—and in a way it is.  But it is only by my ‘faith in reason’, as it were, that I can reason about reason.  This is called “meta-reasoning”. 

 

As I said before, reasoning is thinking; or more precisely it is a type of thinking by which we infer, deduce, induce and abduce from known things in the attempt to arrive at the knowledge of heretofore unknown things.  When I do this with respect to reason itself it leads me to the supposition that the existence of reason works, and it works because it was designed to work.  It was designed to work in the context of an intelligible world that corresponds to the minds of intelligent beings. 

 

Oxford/Cambridge philosopher C.S. Lewis said this:

 

All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning. If the feeling of certainty which we express by words like must be and therefore and since is a real perception of how things outside our own minds really "must" be, well and good. But if this certainty is merely a feeling in our own minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them--if it merely represents the way our minds happen to work--then we can have no knowledge. Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true. It follows that no account of the universe can be true unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be a real insight. A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound--a proof that there are no such things as proofs--which is nonsense. (3)

 

Lewis’s first sentence captures the main idea quite succinctly; the rest is embellishment and needs no commentary.  It is clear and I think it supports my case well.  When I say, “I think” I mean I reason so, of course.  As a rational exercise, allow me to analyze my own thinking a little, i.e. subject my own reason to reason. This is called metacognition. By my own modest powers of reason I believe I have buttressed my argument by appealing to the reasoning of another thinker who was far superior to myself, C.S. Lewis.  There’s much agreement that Lewis was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, and before.  During his career as a scholar he represented both Oxford and Cambridge, respectively.  The simple tool of reason I am employing now is the appeal to authority, which seems to have a dubious reputation. In the Ethics course I took at the University of Michigan-Dearborn one year the professor emphasized that the practice of appealing to authority is not a valid means of arriving at ethical truth, or any kind of truth for that matter.  But to substantiate his assertion he did that very thing!  Further, all scholarly works are expected to do so, and that is reasonable.  The basic principle is—though perhaps not a “law of logic”—that all thinkers are weighted, formally or informally, and different thinkers command different levels of respect and credibility.  Ergo, some thinkers are weighted more heavily than others and deserve more attention, such as C.S. Lewis.  By appealing to his words, which agree so heartily with my argument, it is reasonable for me to expect them to reinforce and even strengthen my argument assuming that you acknowledge both his credibility and his thoughts. We all do this, both in speaking and writing, because the logic behind it is valid.  So appeal to authority is actually respected and expected. That is why I am confident that both Lewis and Chesterton have strengthened my case by their words, which is reasonable.   But there are more writers who do this.

 

Also consider the thoughts of Joe Heschmeyer from his blog, “Shameless Popery”.  I think Joe would admit his own words are not authoritative in their own right, but rather owing to the weight of the credibility of those whose ideas he is presenting.  This is also reasonable. 

 

In 1968 a young theology professor at the University of TÜ;bingen, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI observed that finite being, as we experience it, is marked, through and through, by intelligibility, that it is to say, by a formal structure that makes it understandable to an inquiring mind. In point of fact, all of the sciences—physics, chemistry, psychology, astronomy, biology, and so forth—rest on the assumption that at all levels, microscopic and macroscopic, being can be known.  The same principle was acknowledged in ancient times by Pythagoras, who said that all existing things correspond in numeric value, and in medieval times by the scholastic philosophers who formulated the dictum omne ens est scibile (all being is knowable). (3, underscore mine) 

 

The point of all this is that if either proposition one or two above were not true there could be no science, no understanding, no meaning, no language, no communication, no civilization, no technology, no law, no knowing anything at all, not even the belief of knowing something!  But thankfully that is not the way things areOmne ens est scibile.  All being is knowable and this is necessarily so for the sentient existence we enjoy.  All things are not random and unstable; they are patterned and predictable to us.  These are the fundamental building blocks of all cognition and rational life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Citations

 

1. 1. Emperor Julian, The Classics, Greek & Latin: v. 1. Epic literature, V. Parke, 1909, p. 314.

 

2. Chesterton, Orthodoxy. New York: Image Books, 1959, p. 33

 

3. Lewis, Miracles, Appendix, Appendix C, paragraph 5

 

4. Heschmeyer, blog, http://shamelesspopery.com/

 

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