A Reason for Ration
That Time Iain McGilchrist Backed Me Up
For at least a decade, I've made a distinction between reason and ration.
Ration, which is related to words like ratio and rationalization, is part of our justification system. It's a way of using logic and syntax to explain our behavior, often after the fact.
When we rationalize something to ourselves, the implication is often that we're bullshitting ourselves. That's because, as John Vervaeke says, the very skill which makes us able to adapt also makes us susceptible to bullshit.
Reason, on the other hand, is the ability to strive toward the True, even when elusive. Oftentimes in reasoning, we can hold the tension between seemingly contradictory rational propositions in our minds and hearts.
When I reason, I often essay. Another thing I often do, is walk.
I was pleased to know that Iain McGilchrist backs me up on this.
To be sure, we do use reason in the justificatory way — I can give you reasons why I did something, for example. But I believe on the whole, in holding the tensions — in being reasonable — that we’re being participatory.
If it sounds like I’m making a needless distinction, it’s arguable. It turns out that the word “reason” came from a French adaptation of a Latin form of “ratio.” So both are of the same genetic stock.
When I mentioned essaying, I was nodding to this French, where the word took on particular significance. To essay is to “ex agere” — to drive something out through trial or testing. The word is related to our “exegesis,” which does that for a text.
I put such stock in that because
The Enlightenment gave reason its focused sense of "intelligence considered as having universal validity ... so that it is not something that belongs to any person, but is something partaken of, a sort of light in which every mind must perceive" [Century Dictionary]. Reason itself has long been personified, typically as a woman. Age of Reason "the European Enlightenment" is first recorded 1794 as the title of Tom Paine's book. — Etymonline
So that’s my bias. In all actuality, I’m fond of Reason because I loved my Humanities classes, have a Master’s in Literature, and had my education formed in a largely Western way (which we must distinguish as being Eastern to American Westernism).
And while I may be seeming to reason that ration got the short end of the Modern English stick, I’m sticking to my rationalization.
The question then becomes, in this Age of AI and Internet, which word will rise. I cling to my reason, because I think it helps me keep that Humanity (embodied, minded primate consciousness +) centered. I need that front and center, I reason.
Ration might be making a comeback, and big time. For me, this is welcome, and I still make the distinction. Some element of ratio is implied when we imagine the Logos, “word” though it may be called. The neo-Stoics in particular have a large rationalist bent that sees nature as something of an almost mathematical entity (although I’d really like to hear Massimo Pigliucci’s explication of this).
But there is one other element of the term “reason” which our modern use of “ration” just doesn’t get at — and that is the ability to question. I think when I mention using ration to get at something, the tendency is to think propositionally, forgetting that every proposition implies a set of questions.
Each proposition can also imply a set of counter-propositions, which can themselves imply both counter propositions and so on. I believe that we need a word to distinguish this, and Reason is the better candidate. Although I now believe it’s partly the better candidate because of the this and that I’m enjoying here.
As I wrote this essay, I questioned my insistence on the distinction between the two words. But now I’m questioning that questioning.
As I walk, I’ll be sitting with the tension. It stands to Reason.