Reason, Use of

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Reason is an individual's possession of a capacity to employ his thinking and volitional powers here and now in the direction and control of his behavior in such a way that his actions can be accounted truly human and morally imputable. It thus differs from the age of reason, or the time in life when a person becomes more or less stably capable of moral judgment.

No doubt consciousness of any kind in a human being involves some operation on the part of his intellect and will, as well (in his earthly mode of existence) as of his sensory powers. But only when these several principles of activity are sufficiently sound in their separate and combined functions to enable a man to formulate a reasonable judgment concerning an end to be pursued (appraised from the point of view of ultimate human values), or the means suitable to its attainment, can he be said to enjoy the "use" of reason, i.e., the capacity to employ it freely in the pursuit of objectives specifically human in their value. If the function of his powers is impeded or impaired in such a way that he is incapable of judgment of this kind, although reason and its associated powers may be operative, a man does not possess the free use of them to human purposes and his actions cannot, therefore be classified either as perfectly human or as perfectly moral.

The use of reason may be lacking or impaired by a variety of defects. The most radical of these is an insufficiency in the development of the power of abstract thinking, or a present incapacity to exercise it, that makes a man unable to distinguish absolute from relative values and to see beyond the particular goods that appeal to his immediate desire. If this capacity is wanting, one is incapable of any truly human or moral activity whatever. Other defects may diminish one's use of reason without destroying it entirely. These may occur in consequence of malfunction of sensory perception (as in hallucinations), or of ignorance or inadvertence on the part of the mind itself, or of turbulent emotional disorder. For the influence of these defects on the use of reason and hence on moral responsibility, see ignorance; human act; voluntarity.

[p. k. meagher]