Nous

Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

Rationalism to the Extreme?

with 5 comments

I’m always amazed when I find someone who holds logic and reason above everything else. Coming from someone like me, this may sound like quite a shock since I’m an incredibly logically minded person. However, I do realize the importance of personal feelings and emotions even if I’m not always so adept at showing them. In fact, I would place emotions on the same level of important as logic and reasoning; it’s just that I think the two serve different purposes.

In any case, I’m fascinated by people who hold logic and “rationality” on a pedestal far above anything else. Feelings are of no value to them, and personal perspectives don’t matter either; the only thing that matters is the cold, hard facts. These people trust their rational intuition more than anything else, thus they subject everything to logical scrutiny. If something doesn’t make sense to them logically then it’s not worth believing. We can call these people “rationalists.”

Perhaps one of the best known examples of a consistent rationalist is a man by the name of Parmenides who lived about 2,500 years ago. Parmenides was a rationalist to the extreme. He believed that the world was one eternal, unchanging whole. He didn’t believe there was any sort of change whatsoever. He thought change was illusory.

One has to wonder how in the world he could come to such a conclusion? We see change everywhere! The seasons change, the sun sets and the stars rotate around the night sky, children grow older, water rushes about in rivers, etc. In fact, your body will have undergone numerous changes by the time you finish reading this post. The world is full of change! So, how could Parmenides have come to such a ridiculous conclusion? Contrary to what his odd view of the world may suggest, he was actually extremely bright, and he drew his conclusions from a rather logical and impressive string of arguments:

1. Anything we can think or speak about either exists or doesn’t exist

2. Anything that doesn’t exist is nothing

3. We cannot think or speak about nothing

4. Hence, we cannot think or speak about what doesn’t exist

5. Therefore anything we can think or speak about exists. [1]

In other words, to think or speak about nothing is to not think or speak at all. So the object of thought and speech must be something. Parmenides identified this “something” with what he called “Being” and then he drew out several conclusions regarding Being. For example, he wondered if Being began to exist at some point. If Being did begin to exist then it must have come either from something or from nothing. If from nothing, then it would not have come into existence since no thing can come from nothing. But on the other hand, it could not have come from something either, since something can only be what it is and nothing else—it cannot become something that it is not already. Hence being never began to exist; being is eternal. Furthermore, being cannot change, for that would mean that it has become something else, but that has been proven to be impossible. Thus for Parmenides, being is eternally what is, and it can neither be nor become anything else. There is no change whatsoever …Chew on that for a bit!

Anyway, the next time one of those rationally minded people has you frustrated by their unyielding adherence to logical reasoning, just take a deep breath and remember it could be worst…they could be Parmenides 🙂

Notes

[1] Lawhead, W. (2006). Voyage of Discovery: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy. Wadsworth Publishing.

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Written by Tim

January 5, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Logic, Philosophy

5 Responses

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  1. I find this post interesting!

    I guess I am a person who hold rationalism and logic above all else. I do value other things but if there is ever a contradiction I will hold logic and reason above it.

    I don’t give a lot of weight to emotion. From a purely biological perspective I believe emotions to be what animals have as instincts. I believe that humans have an innate and unique ability to be conscious, but that emotions actually turn off this conscious thought and we just become “reactors” and we react to situations based on how we have been conditioned to and that’s it. I believe emotions truly get in the way, and while they do serve a purpose, I think they don’t allow for straight logic and reasoning, and when they (logic vs emotions) come head to head logic must win or once again I would make a poor, emotional response. This is not always avoidable but it’s my goal.

    I am also quite skeptical, I guess I’d like to think that keeps me in line mostly. That and I don’t have a ridiculous desire to have every question answered or understand everything so I’m quite capable of functioning on a day to day basis!

    ophalm

    February 17, 2009 at 1:27 am

  2. Yes Parmenides was quite an interesting fellow!

    Interesting theory. I believe both logic and emotions play distinct roles though sometimes those roles smudge together. You can’t choose a mate based on logic alone, and you *shouldn’t* choose a mate on impulse alone either. You kind of have to use both.

    Ever seen the movie DARK CITY?

    Tim

    February 19, 2009 at 4:29 pm

  3. I haven’t seen it sorry

    I agree to a certain level. Emotion isn’t totally useless, and our happiness is emotional so surely a content life is one that does involve emotions, but I also think that for 99% of decisions, they are poor, and at the very least logic (from an unemotional mind) should accompany emotion to make sure it’s not making big mistakes..

    ophalm

    February 19, 2009 at 4:41 pm

  4. Yes, I think we all need to be critical thinkers especially in our day and age. But I wonder if we sometimes place too much emphasis on logic and reason? I know the opposite is a problem with 99.9% of the world 🙂 but for us 0.1% maybe we could benefit from a healthy dose of emotion! I’m reminded of the movie DARK CITY where the bad guys were people from a distinct planet and completely devoid of any emotion. Isn’t emotion simply a part of who we are as humans?

    Tim

    February 24, 2009 at 1:37 pm

  5. ophalm, here’s a quote from David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature that you may like (or hate)

    Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

    Tim

    March 18, 2009 at 7:07 pm


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