My “Reason Why”
I believe in reason and the life of the mind. Some critics of modernity have complained that we now live “too much in the head.” But where else would we live? Our mind opens to us a universe of wonder, majesty, mystery, and discovery. Like Aladdin’s magic carpet, we ride the waves of mental activity to remotest reaches of past time and the limits of material existence. Beyond this, we explore what never existed, or never could have existed, without the imagination and intellect instinct within us: Mozart’s sonatas, Picasso’s canvasses, Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Aristotle said simply learning is pleasant to humankind; it is constitutive of who we are, our very mode of existence. It is how we become more of what we have the potential to be—more understanding, more empathic, more temperate, more in harmony with the world around us. Science, medicine, architecture, all the arts of civilization, are products of humanity’s ceaseless mental restiveness.
We cannot look up to the night sky without experiencing wonder at the flecks of light that spangle it. In distant times this wonder prompted speculation and storytelling. These sometimes hardened into unthinking dogma. But the mind never rests easy under such restraints. Inquiry penetrates dogma; reason dismantles it and inspires new cosmologies, until with the help of a Hubble or Voyager, we perch on the verge of ultimate revelation.
Reason is not perfect, and the mind has not devised only what is best for us. The mind that explored the atom and engineered worldwide networks of communication and exchange also made the atom bomb and planned the horrors of Buchenwald. Mind is not perfect, but it is perfectible. The Enlightenment luminaries who used their learning, worldly experience, and intuition to establish a new government for the American colonies had faith in their intellect to invent a better form of rule, but had also the wisdom to know that their successors would improve upon it, and so provided for its indefinite perfectibility.
Like those before me, I have faith in reason and the life of the mind to answer the challenges that confront us: conflict, poverty, prejudice, the wasting of our environment. It is reason and the life of the mind that have tamed disease, resolved injustice, and reconciled foes at peace conferences. This is not a placid faith. The challenges are great and the sources of defection and opposition to reason are many. But in the last analysis, all that we have and all that we have become are owning to patient reason and humanity’s unfailing, searching intellect.
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