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Reason

REASON

REASON. For many in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, reason was understood as "right reason." It was a human faculty, divinely founded, that uncovered the world by revealing it, because it was part of the world. Reason was an ontological property of a divinely ordered cosmos, an innate virtue that directed right behavior and served as the source for civil and social law and order. It was not an introspective activity separate from, and thus searching for, certain laws and principles about the world. This it was to become over the next two centuries as epistemology became separated from ontology, as knowing became separated from the world to be known. During this process, the history of the idea of reason became the history of a search for certainty and authority about the natural and, increasingly, also the cultural world. From being a human faculty that was ontologically part of God's world, reason was reconceptualized as a methodology that was epistemologically apart from the world.

An integral feature of this methodological transformation was widespread skepticism about the power of reason, even as reason began to serve, in one fashion or another, as the foundation for authoritative knowledge about the world. Recognizing reason's limits while searching for certainty furthered the secularizing process Europe underwent during these centuries. In the realms of religion, philosophy, and science, the power and limits of reason were constantly discussed and debated.

REASON AND SKEPTICISM

Perhaps the most famous opponent of reason at the beginning of the early modern period was the instigator of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther (14831546). A mighty haranguer, Luther often referred to reason as a "harlot" and spoke of Aristotle's works as either a scourge of God let loose upon humankind, as punishment for its sins, or as the cunning ploy of the devil, meant to confound humans and steer them away from Scripture. Bombast aside, Luther built upon a tradition of thought that had been developing since the late Middle Ages, and which was most popularly identified with the English Franciscan thinker William of Ockham (c. 12851347/1349), who separated reason and faith according to the respective realms to which they applied, the earthly and the heavenly. Luther, and after him the French reformer John Calvin (15091564), sought to highlight the inadequacy of natural reason to comprehend God, especially God's actions. God was inaccessible by reason, and those who sought to reason their way to him would fail. All natural reason could do was to recognize God's omniscience and omnipotence. While it would always stop short of understanding God, Luther did not reject reason in all cases. Indeed, he advocated the use of reasonthat is, deductive logicas a tool to understand and evaluate the things of this world.

The separation of faith and reason, of the heavenly and the earthly, inspired various strategies for negotiating life. If Luther stressed faith, others focused more attention on this world. Skepticism about the ability of reason to attain certain knowledge characterized both approaches. At the end of the sixteenth century the French writer Michel de Montaigne (15331592), in a series of autobiographical essays (Essais, 15801588), promoted a cautious skepticism. Neither God nor the natural world could be known with certainty. With regard to each, Montaigne believed, reason teaches us humility and shows us its own limitations.

Montaigne was one of the first to see reason as a process of reasoning, and he also linked it to experience. It was still part of the given, natural world, but now both the world and reason were seen to be in flux, rather than displaying a static, divine order. Reason could not provide definitive conclusions; it could only guide us to assess our experiences and govern our natural passions. This, for Montaigne, was virtue. Montaigne sensed the psychological burden of negotiating an ontologically destabilized world. Faith provided security for some; the rest, he noted, were driven by a desire for knowledge. Yet given its nature, reason failed to offer fixed truths. Montaigne recognized that in such a world habit accustoms people to change and variety, and that routine is practically reasonable.

REASON AND METHODOLOGY

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries debated means for instrumentalizing reason and instituting it authoritatively in order to do just what Montaigne knew it could not: to discover definitive and fixed truths about the world. Such debates were primarily methodological and led to the establishment of reason as the foundation for knowledge. The important question was whether one should follow René Descartes (15961650) and reason to truth intuitively and deductively, or whether one should proceed inductively, as Francis Bacon (15611626) would have it, moving from "facts" gleaned about the natural world to general principles in order to come up with certain truths or natural laws. In either case, the world was epistemologically dualistic, with objective and subjective and external and internal realities that could only be reasoned about and known dialectically.

Descartes separated matter from mind, or what he called extension from thought, and based certainty upon the reasoning (that is, the doubting) self. Authority as rationalism was thus subjective; it moved from within to without. But even as this means of achieving certain knowledge deified reason and the power of the human mind, knowledge rested upon doubt and skepticism. Like Descartes, Bacon recommended starting out by doubting all previous knowledge, but he sought a more stable support structure than rationalism for building new truths. His goal was to connect human reason to accurate information about nature, to marry the rational and the experimental. As he opined in his essay "Of Truth," "The first creature of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense; the last was the light of reason." Ultimately, Bacon aimed at nothing less than the reformation of knowledge.

For Bacon, reason was not the traditional "right reason" that revealed and participated in the natural order. But neither was it fully a methodological intervention into a neutral, objective world. Bacon's reason was, rather, a construction supported by observations about the natural world, and he believed that it could help reform the relation between mind and nature, between knowing and being, and consequently improve human life. Reason, then, was becoming materialistic, becoming what mattered, so that if properly exercised, it could generate useful knowledge about nature.

The accomplishments of the seventeenth-century scientific revolution owed much to the combination of Descartes's deductive, mathematical rationalism with Bacon's inductive empiricism. The eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which popularized these accomplishments and applied their underlying premises to efforts at social and political reform, emphasized the Baconian tradition, especially as refined by John Locke (16321704). Locke's epistemological arguments in fact made it plausible and useful to link Cartesian and Baconian methods. In his Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690), Locke established his sensory epistemology and his famous concept of the tabula rasa, the clean slate. Humans were born empty, so to speak, and objects from the natural world impressed themselves on their senses. Subsequently, the mind reasoned about these sensory impressions and through its reasoning established the probability or certainty of propositions deduced from them. Knowledge according to Locke was built upon such sensory impressions, and there were no innate ideas. Reasoning was concerned with a limited number of things and limited to objective reality.

Even though Locke referred to reason as "natural revelation" and concluded that it should be the "last judge and guide in everything," he acknowledged its limits to a greater extent than did Descartes. By linking reason to mind and nature, Locke in effect built certainty upon reason's very limits. Even as it doubts and criticizes, reason can only work upon received sensory impressions; in doing so it also recognizes, reflexively and self-evidently, its own methodological structure and truth. Locke rescued reason from uncontainable skepticism and thus provided the impetus for the Enlightenment's methodological revolt against rationalism, a revolt waged in the name of reason.

REASON AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT

The Enlightenment was critical in furthering the process, begun three centuries earlier, that altered the understanding of reason and, by empirically connecting it to nature, established reason as the alternative authority to both Christian revelation and speculative, metaphysical theory. The so-called Age of Reason may thus be described as a methodological revolution that, in effect, redeemed reason's authority by countering rationalism. Reason was set apart from the natural world so that it might observe and know it, and the method of knowing, in turn, was itself key in shaping the world one knew. More completely than before, Enlightenment thinkers separated the natural world, which they could observe, reason about, and know authoritatively, from the supernatural world, of which humans could have no certain knowledge. Authority, based on experience and a reason guided by the senses, was limitedor even, as some claimed, arbitrarybut it had thereby become less susceptible to skepticism.

As this new view of reason and knowledge developed, the modern sciences and social sciences began to establish themselves as sources of authority about physical, social, and even emotional reality and as means of furthering human progress. By practically combining British empiricism and French rationalism, Enlightenment thinkers sought to ascertain universal truths about human, social, political, and economic nature, cautiously expecting that they could then be used to ameliorate society. Reason would lead to truth, to natural laws that would serve as the foundation for a new political and social morality.

Used appropriately, reason was seen as an instrument of virtuous action, and it was thus linked to developing concepts of freedom and responsibility. As Immanuel Kant (17241804) argued in his essay Was ist Aufklärung? (1784; What is enlightenment?), the free and courageous use of reason was a sign of humanity's moral maturation. A free individual was a rational one, and in fact humans were obliged to exercise their reason in order to ensure their own freedom. The modern Western concept of rights rests upon this articulation of reason's ability to uncover natural laws. Voltaire (16941778) claimed in his Traité sur la tolérance (1763; Treatise on toleration) that reason builds virtue and motivates freedoms. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (17121778) maintained that rational principles provide the only proper foundation for social and political order. Denis Diderot's (17131784) essay "Natural Law," written for the Encyclopédie (1755), contained perhaps the clearest statement of this position. According to Diderot, reason could uncover natural rights, and in fact humans had a moral obligation to use it to uncover such truths and then to help society conform to them.

REASON AND PROGRESS

Awaiting his death by decapitation during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror (shortly after the celebration in Paris of the Festival of Reason, 10 November 1793), Marie-Jean Caritat, the marquis de Condorcet (17431794) completed his multi-part Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain (1795; Sketch of a historical picture of the progress of the human spirit). Condorcet divided human history into ten stages, identifying the futurestage tenas the age of the "liberated mind." In boldly reductive fashion he summed up his century's flirtation with reason as the instrument of human perfectibility and progress. Intoxicated with optimism, Condorcet imagined the future as a "heaven created by reason."

Earlier in the century, Rousseau had more soberly investigated the relationship between human reason and progress. In so doing he highlighted the complicated character of each and provided a framework for critical reflection on the emerging new concept of reason. For Rousseau, the more arts and sciences advanced, the more humans became corrupted. By corruption Rousseau meant the alienation or estrangement of humans from what characteristically makes them human. For Rousseau, what made humans human was their sociable and sentient nature, not their rationality. Reflection, Rousseau argued, was in fact antithetical to nature. It led one self-consciously to differentiate self from other, forming a false sense of identity premised upon individuality. Yet humans inherently sought improvement and perfectibility, as individuals and as a species. Thus Rousseau's argument incorporated a paradox. Rationalization led to specialization, which simultaneously marked indefinite progress and estrangement from nature.

Rousseau's criticism of reason and reflection needs to be considered in the context of the long and rich historical discussion about the power and limits of reason and its relationship to nature. As this discussion proceeded during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it increasingly became a methodological discussion, a debate about what humans could know with any certainty, how they could best go about knowing, and ultimately, how such knowledge could be used to improve society. Rousseau's claims attacked the very reason that, separated from the natural world, was increasingly advanced as the authoritative source of knowledge.

At the same time a related critique emerged, which opposed reason's increasingly instrumental character. Building directly or indirectly on Rousseau's assertions, thinkers from Kant to the English Romantic poet William Blake (17571827) sought to resurrect humanity's sense of creative freedom and moral authority against the prevalent vision of a mechanistic universe running on rationalized, causal, and deterministic laws. The Scotsman David Hume (17111776) had challenged the confidence in reason by ascertaining that while empiricism was indeed the only method for gaining knowledge about nature, it was custom and habit rather than reason that made this method successful. Truth was wholly experiential and thus wholly arbitrary. For Kant, empiricism was an insufficient guide to either knowledge or morality. In his Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781; Critique of pure reason) he began to establish his sense that a priori knowledge (knowledge that precedes experience of the world) existed in humans, and that without such knowledge empiricism would in fact be impossible.

By the end of the eighteenth century, reason's future was fairly well laid out. The Enlightenment had methodologically focused seventeenth-century attempts to gain knowledge about the world. Reason replaced revelation and tradition as the primary authority. In the process, it became disembodied and disengaged from the objective world, which it could now authoritatively know. As rational doubt increasingly undermined ontological security, instrumental reason was increasingly used in an epistemological attempt to establish control over the world. And at the same time, a tradition took root that highlighted the alienating consequences of using instrumental reason to negotiate social and emotional reality and criticized the reductive linking of morality and freedom with reason.

See also Bacon, Francis ; Descartes, René ; Empiricism ; Enlightenment ; Epistemology ; Hume, David ; Idealism ; Kant, Immanuel ; Locke, John ; Philosophy ; Scientific Revolution ; Skepticism: Academic and Pyrrhonian .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Beiser, Frederick C. The Sovereignty of Reason: The Defense of Rationality in the Early English Enlightenment. Princeton, 1996.

Bronowski, J., and Bruce Mazlish. The Western Intellectual Tradition: From Leonardo to Hegel. New York, 1960.

Butterfield, H. The Origins of Modern Science, 13001800. New York, 1957.

Collins, Stephen L. From Divine Cosmos to Sovereign State: An Intellectual History of Consciousness and the Idea of Order in Renaissance England. New York, 1989.

Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. Vol. 1, The Rise of Modern Paganism. New York, 1967.

. The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. Vol. 2, The Science of Freedom. New York, 1969.

Giddens, Anthony. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford, 1990.

Hunt, Lynn, ed. and trans. The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History. Boston, 1996.

Owen, David. Hume's Reason. Oxford and New York, 1999.

Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity. Cambridge, Mass., 1989.

Willey, Basil. The Seventeenth Century Background: Studies in the Thought of the Age in Relation to Poetry and Religion. New York, 1977.

Stephen L. Collins

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reason

rea·son / ˈrēzən/ • n. 1. a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event: the minister resigned for personal reasons it is hard to know for the simple reason that few records survive. ∎  good or obvious cause to do something: we have reason to celebrate. ∎  Logic a premise of an argument in support of a belief, esp. a minor premise when given after the conclusion. 2. the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic: there is a close connection between reason and emotion. ∎  what is right, practical, or possible; common sense: people are willing, within reason, to pay for schooling. ∎  (one's reason) one's sanity: she is in danger of losing her reason. • v. [intr.] think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic: humans do not reason entirely from facts | [as n.] (reasoning) the present chapter will outline the reasoning behind the review. ∎  [tr.] (reason something out) find an answer to a problem by considering various possible solutions. ∎  (reason with) persuade (someone) with rational argument: I tried to reason with her, but without success. PHRASES: beyond (all) reason to a foolishly excessive degree: he indulged Andrew beyond all reason. by reason of formal because of: persons who, by reason of age, are in need of care. for some reason used to convey that one doesn't know the reason for a particular state of affairs, often with the implication that one finds it strange or surprising: for some reason he likes you. listen to reason be persuaded to act sensibly: the child is usually too emotionally overwrought to listen to reason. theirs (or ours) not to reason why used to suggest that it is not someone's (or someone else's) place to question a situation or system. reason of state another term for raison d'état. (it) stands to reason it is obvious or logical: it stands to reason that if you can eradicate the fear, the nervousness will subside.DERIVATIVES: rea·son·er / ˈrēz(ə)nər/ n. rea·son·less adj. ( archaic ). ORIGIN: Middle English: from Old French reisun (noun), raisoner (verb), from a variant of Latin ratio(n-), from the verb reri ‘consider.’

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reason

reason fact or circumstance serving as ground or motive for action; intellectual power, thinking faculty. XIII. ME. res(o)un, reson, reisun — OF. reisun, res(o)un (mod. raison):- L. ratiō, -ōn- reckoning, judgement, understanding, reasoning, method, motive, f. rat-, pp. stem of rērī think, reckon; see -TION.
So reason vb. †question, call to account XIV; †hold discourse XV; think connectedly or logically XVI. — OF. raisoner (mod. -onner). reasonable agreeable to reason XIII; †endowed with reason; having sound judgement; not exceeding limits assigned by reason XIV. — (O)F. raison(n)able.

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reason

reason theirs not to reason why it is not someone's place to question a situation, order, or system. With allusion to Tennyson' poem The Charge of the Light Brigade (1854), which describes the notorious incident in the Crimean War when British cavalry unhesitatingly obeyed a suicidal order to ride straight at the Russian guns.
there is reason in the roasting of eggs proverbial saying, mid 17th century, meaning that however odd an action may seem, there is a reason for it.

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reason

reasonItalian, stallion •cañon, canyon, companion •hellion, rebellion •Kenyan •Melanesian, Micronesian, Polynesian •billion, jillion, million, modillion, multimillion, pillion, septillion, sextillion, squillion, trillion, zillion •minion, opinion, pinion •carillon • slumgullion •bunion, Bunyan, grunion, onion, Runyon •roentgen • damson • Kansan • Tarzan •blazon, brazen, emblazon, liaison, raisin •Spätlesen •reason, season, treason •arisen, grison, imprison, mizzen, prison, risen, uprisen •Pilsen • crimson • malison •benison, denizen •orison • citizen •bedizen, greisen, horizon, kaizen •Stockhausen •chosen, frozen •Lederhosen • poison • Susan •cousin, cozen, dozen •Amazon

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