Objective Reason

In the language of the Fourth Way, the initial state of a man – one might say the ‘usual’ or ‘normal’ state – is to be wholly subjective in his (or her) being. Though there’s nothing ‘normal’ – or perhaps ‘proper’ – in that state, except in the purely statistical sense. The subjective man has subjective reason and subjective emotions. They all relate to him (or her). And whilst it is possible – even desirable – for science to be objective, it is quite often coloured by the subjective viewpoint of how ‘right’ (and perhaps how ‘famous’) the scientist is seen to be.

Subjective reason is – at its heart – transactional. Everything is evaluated for its ‘worth’ or ‘utility’ to the perceiver. Even that which is not directly useful can, perhaps be ‘spent’ or traded. All the world is divided into ‘me’ (mine) and ‘not-me’ (not yet mine). Subjective reason underpins the art of tools and technology. It is the art of answering the question, “How can I use this?” – where ‘this’ can even be another, sentient being.

If you know your history of philosophy, you are probably thinking (if not mouthing) the name ‘Jeremy Bentham’. He is famous – if that’s the right word, for expounding on the thought that actions are ethical (morally right) if they produce ‘usefulness’ – that is, if they contribute to the common good of all. Actions that produce nothing useful for the common good, but only serve the individual are at best morally ambiguous. Any harm to the common good has to be weighed against usefulness to the common good. Thus, for example, gathering taxes causes harm, but spending the money more wisely than individuals may be expected to do can outweigh that harm.

As a theory, the ‘utilitarianism’ of Jeremy Bentham never really flew, though his arguments can still be seen in the operation of many social enterprises, from government to business. Even in his time (late 18th century), it was recognised that people have limited tolerance for the common good, unless they feel part of the group receiving it. And this, in essence, is why ‘society’ never quite works. There’s always some group trying to argue that the common good is really only ‘common’ if it is good for them. And that – pretty clearly – is the effect of subjective reason. In the end, it isn’t really ‘reason’ at all: it is a means of justifying self-oriented emotion.

What Jeremy Bentham was aiming at (I suspect) was some form of reasoning that is not linked to ‘utility for self’. He tried suggesting that one could reason impartially, if one took ‘self’ out of the picture and considered the common good. But where do you draw the boundaries of that common ‘weal’? And it doesn’t take terribly long, thinking on that issue, to realise that any boundary creates a division, meaning that harm can propagate over that boundary without being morally wrong.

Everything causes harm. It’s in the nature of existence. Things die, erode or change, to act as ‘food’ for other things. Only if you apply an artificial boundary and engage in subjective reasoning – identified with one party or another – does that become ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Objectively, it is neither: it simply ‘is’. Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism was merely subjective reason with a bigger boundary. In reality things are all, automatically ‘useful’ – and indeed will be used, if the opportunity presents itself.

So what, then, is ‘objective reason’? I seem, perhaps, to be painting a picture where the ‘whole’ doesn’t obey any reason: it simply ‘is’. But in fact, it does obey ‘laws’. Objective reason might also be called ‘objective science’ because it addresses a full and wholesome understanding of those laws, such that their operation can be seen in everything existing. And by ‘understanding’, I mean the proper fusion of knowledge and being. Knowledge is just something that has stuck to you; understanding infuses you.

Because the common-cosmic laws apply to everything, they are intrinsically impartial. To watch their operation unfold through the lens of understanding makes the watcher impartial as well. And if he or she should try to shift perspective to a viewpoint that is subjective, the operation of the common-cosmic laws will be lost. It will still be happening, but an attachment to a certain outcome – the inevitable outcome of subjective reason – will prevent us from seeing that particular unfolding of accident.

And perhaps that last highlights another aspect of impartiality and objective reason. Objectively, everything that happens is the result of accidental mixing. If a man thinks he can ‘do’ then he is fooling himself about the chains of accident through which he walks. He is applying subjective reason, and making tools of processes that run automatically, given the opportunity. If you mix Hydrogen and Oxygen with enough heat, they will react. It is not by ‘doing’ that this happens, though man can benefit from the accident. He can even make the accident more or less likely, but all life does that, all the time. That, too, is not ‘doing’. And it requires only memory; not objective reason.

Take the image attached to this post. Subjective reason says, “What can I build by knowing this?” Objective reason asks, “How do matter and energy flow from one to the other?”

Author: sbwheeler

Retired IT consultant.

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