What is ‘reason’?

The brain: the place of consciousness and thought

What is ‘reason’? How do we reason? Ask a philosopher these questions about what they claim is their practice and what they most pride themselves on, and you will most likely be met with examples or…by a rabbit in the headlights. They take it for granted – you do philosophy, ipso facto, you reason. In philosophy, suffused with overt and – post the rise of science – concealed gods, reason is held to be linguistic and primarily propositional. On this, philosophy is its own worst argument. The time is long overdue for the Man of Reason with his patriarchal dualisms that Lloyd and particularly Plumwood exposed so well to be got rid of, so it is good to hear another and at least equally important form of reason – non-linguistic, non-propositional, rich, dialectical, wholistic, fluid and instantaneous (on this occasion in relation to morality) – to get a smidgen of a run on The Philosopher’s Zone – I refer to intuition.

(Academic) philosophers, you will be hearing a lot more of intuition (and of more ‘primitive’ forms of ‘reason’) as brain science develops and what is increasingly getting an airing in adult education courses with the decline of that stage of bourgeois ideology known as postmodernism – I refer to mysticism, to which intuition is central – is absorbed by an eager public, leaving those who are committed to that which is only linguistic and propositional further behind.

Reasoning is what the brain does towards our acquiring knowledge of the world (matter reflecting on matter) and the brain draws on all of its potential towards that end – the truth of the achievement of that end being tested in practice (distinct from the linguistic contemplation, divorced from practice, of philosophy). As Lenin wrote ‘From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, – such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality. Kant disparages knowledge in order to make way for faith: Hegel exalts knowledge, asserting that knowledge is knowledge of God. The materialist exalts the knowledge of matter, of nature’  Collected Works, Vol., 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 171.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our philosophic dead!


7 thoughts on “What is ‘reason’?

  1. I thought reason meant using logic. Being aware of, for example, making unfounded assumptions or using terms that don’t have a consistently logical explanation. And that intuition was border-line mystical — that it was a force outside yourself given an opinion, warning, insight. Could you explain this a little? Thanks.


    • Hello Austin, thank you for your comment. Formal logic (the logic to which you refer) is that of validity, of correctness or incorrectness, of formal consistency and is governed by rules but this is not the logic, the reasoning of life, both of which (reason and life) are driven (as Hegel showed) by contradiction. Hegel (as did Cusanus before him) argued not only that ‘a’ and ‘not-a’ exist together (for Aristotle this was anathema) but that in both ‘a’ and ‘not-a’ are further contradictions. This is a fundamental reason for why I believe we can learn so much from mysticism which in some of its core beliefs (contradiction being only one, another being that the world is both wonderful and imperfect – this inspired both Copernicus and Kepler) profoundly reflects in thought how the world works. Marx recognised this, standing Hegel’s mystical philosophy on its feet.

      It is true that intuition is central to mysticism, but it would be just as incorrect to reject it on this basis (and, regarding the study of intuition and related processes, inconsistent with science) as it is to reject dialectical materialism because Marx and Engels came up with it. In my view, the way forward is to explore both what Marx recognised in mysticism – to go over the heritage of mysticism itself, in order to better understand and learn from it and what Marx and Engels developed in their theory of knowledge on the basis of it.

      Is it ‘logical’ to reject a theory because there are flaws in it – some of which (e.g. the teleology of Marxism) derive from mysticism, or shouldn’t we take profound contributions to knowledge from where we find them and build on them? What do you think? Phil


      • Thank you so much for this thoughtful reply. I think I get the difference between formal logic as a way to express ideas as opposed to the world being a logical place. (Hey, I live in Mexico! which is nothing if not illogical, not to say surreal.) I’ve poked around a bit on youtube to learn about Hegel so what you’re saying makes a tiny bit of sense. Me and philosophy is a case of brain surgery self taught. I like to say if you think you know anything about baseball, you don’t know anything about baseball. And it appears that goes double for philosophy! Do you have formal training in the field?
        I have mystical experiences and run on intuition. I use ‘logic’ (in my limited understanding of it) to dissect some of the nonesense humans hold dear — ‘forgiveness,’ ‘patriotism,’ ‘integrity’ — none of which can be logically defined. That’s why I love Wittgenstein so much.
        Thanks again for taking so much time and care — and for your patience!


      • Hello Austin, thank you very much for your civility. Yes, I do have ‘formal training’ in philosophy and I have spent many years developing and arguing for my views – and had much rejection by time/ideology-serving academics (hence this blog), not only regarding mysticism but also the relationship between that and a materialist understanding of the world.

        There is a profound dishonesty in Western culture regarding the continuing influence of mysticism on it (I strongly recommend William Franke’s 2 vol. anthology On What Cannot Be Said because it so well outlines the history of mysticism in the West and exemplifies the extent of that influence on ‘greats’ of Western culture) and that dishonesty is most pronounced in philosophy – precisely because philosophers have the most to hide. The priest of the Übermensch, Nietzsche, wrote of philosophy’s concealed priesthood.

        The refusal of academic philosophers to recognise and openly accept and discuss the impact of mysticism on Western culture and on what they teach and do denies the turn to mysticism with the rise of science and panders to the cultural arrogance that ‘we in the West rightly dominate the world – this domination now rapidly diminishing with the rise of China – because we are the masters of “reason”‘ and is a most gross failure of social and intellectual responsibility by those behind cloistered walls.

        You process that you have mystical experiences and that you run on intuition. Do you read any of the overt mystical greats? I ask this not only from the perspective of relating with/enjoying what they write but of understanding what their philosophical commitments are, why they write as they do and of forming your view on how well and in what ways that writing reflects the world? Best regards, Phil


      • I have been thinking about your comments a lot. First, tho, I’d like to thank you for whatever you did to send a referral my way (that’s what my stats say.) I tried to understand Hegel and got a tiny bit but find his preoccupation with the importance of/power of the state a little, frankly, ridiculous. To me, that’s the least of our problems — or, rather, the cause of most of them.
        My situation is a little different simply because I have experiences that go in the face of commonly held precepts of physics. That’s why I’m a big fan of logical positivism and, of course, my crush, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Some of the experiences I have that are outside the realm of commonly held precepts in physics are in my recent post, Love Story Three. I am getting ready to start a new blog which is just gonna be the Love Story chapters with the title:
        Love Among the Aliens: San Miguel 2014. I’ll keep you posted.
        Hope you are having fun today.
        That’s it from Mexico where I’m watching the Yankees do what they do best these days — lose!
        best wishes from


      • Hello Austin, I’m glad someone was referred to your blog from mine. On your blog you mentioned your questioning of authority and exemplify it in your comment regarding Hegel. Congratulations! Aside from your point, Hegel certainly was comfortable with pomposity and prolixity (modern philosophers have made a habit of them – walls to be climbed over, behind cloistered walls) – and he did not hesitate to shape his philosophy accordingly – I will be posting on this in a while. I recall Lenin, surprisingly (given his total commitment), making the same charges against Marx (I believe it was in his Philosophical Notebooks). Compliments on your avatar. Phil


  2. Hi Phil. I would agree with the spirit of the post but not all the words. I’m a fan of mysticism and logic and see no opposition between them. Intuition is not reason, so each to its own. I take your point about the rejection of the claims of mysticism, and would say that it is never a sensible approach to reject ideas rather than falsify them, but I have never seen a discrepancy between intuition and reason. Rather. our reason would be required in order to make sense of our intuitions. A problem would be that the word ‘intuition’ can mean many things. It can be confusing. For example, I think Kant calls genuine mystical knowledge, or knowledge of the Real, ‘non-intuitive immediate knowledge’.


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