Rationality and knowledge


 Destre and I have been talking for a while now and we have been considering a definition of reason/rationality. The consequent of this project is that we are to look at the ‘applications’ of a proper definition of reason. Sofar we have the following:

i. Social science

ii. Ethics

iii. Aesthetics

Now we have thought about this.

iv. Knowledge

Now. I was considering; how does rationality come to play when we form beliefs? DO we use reason at all? Or, like Hume says, are beliefs involuntarily pushed upon us (e.g. “Ow, that hurts”)? Is there such thing as a ‘rational belief’? Well; that’s the whole question that Destre and I are trying to ask, if there is such a thing as a rational belief, we must know what the word ‘rational’ means; and in all honesty, I don’t think I can come up with a definitive answer to that.

So, we could ask about the psychology of forming beliefs (a descriptive question); how do we form beliefs? Do we base our assent to truth on available evidence (Bayesianism)? Are there pre-epistemic, psychological factors to belief-forming; such as adherence to tradition, or the desire to believe in something as true? Or, as a Kantian may suggest, pre-cognitive categories which tries to apprehend the manifold of experience; pure categories unmixed by experience.

Then comes the normative question; how SHOULD we form beliefs? The former, descriptive question makes not judgement about what is a true or false belief; which is something many people want to know about. The latter question satisfies this curiosity. In all honesty, I am not confident about trying to answer this question, but more interested in the quid facti issue how beliefs are formed; rather than the quid juris issue of how beliefs should be formed.

Lemma: One related issue is how rationality relates to probability. I’m scared of tackling this question; and I’m sure Mr. Dawson (The Seed of Reason) may be better suited to answering this.


One thought on “Rationality and knowledge

  1. I really want to answer this one, but to do so would be to indulge in slightly speculative neuropsychological musings… To me, all thoughts are beliefs. This is the product of both my philosophy and my cognitive science. Of course, having said that ‘all thoughts are beliefs’ begs more questions than it answers, and here indeed I am going to rapidly run out of steam.

    Oh well, now I’ve started writing I might as well indulge…

    Supposing (which is plausible but by no means demonstrable at this time) that all beliefs exist in the neural substrate, a belief is a connection between one neural cluster and another. The strength of the belief dictates the nature of this connection – or, if you prefer a more naturalistic approach, the strengths of the neural connection determines the strength of the belief. (As ever, cause and effect are only separable by conscious action).

    Beliefs, on this model, are formed associatively. A great many people seem to form beliefs from a central neural signal “True” which becomes linked to other concepts by various actions including exposure to tradition, reasoning and many more methods besides. How “True” becomes so powerful in the first place is the mysterious thing for me – there’s no evidence of biological determinism, so I fall back to Wittgenstein. Here, as in so much of Western thought, I find the shadow of Plato and shudder.

    Personally, I find it far more interesting to explore beliefs having slain “True” (a la Nietzsche) as this places the whole system into more open relief.

    How should we form beliefs? I don’t believe we have the luxury to determine this. But we can edit our beliefs, if we so choose. Perhaps the question is thus: should we edit our beliefs, and if so, under what criteria do we guide such a process?

    Anyway, I am failing to develop these ideas in a coherent fashion so I’m going to call a halt. I hope something in this soup is of interest. 😉

    Best wishes!

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