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M A X W E S T B R O O K The University of Texas Internal Debate as Discipline: Claris's The Watchful Gods Modern man is inclined to be arrogant toward anyone who believes in an objective reality which is said to be outside the domain of reason. If you claim to believe in a reality which is ob­ jective, the argument goes, then you imply that I too am obligated to believe; yet you deny the standard of reason, the only standard your audience can use as a check against the pitfalls of subjectivity and bias. How then is one to know if the belief is objective or merely the product of a private whim? What standard, what dis­ cipline of the emotions if not of reason, does the believer set for himself? Underlying such questions is the assumption that there is no standard other than reason, that reason in some scientific or philosophical form takes in all legitimate approaches to knowledge, that belief in non-reasoning knowledge is bogus. The believer in a reality not in the domain of reason is thus said to have palmed off personal illusions under the guise of legitimate knowledge. I make the rather strong claim that this protest against nanreasoned knowledge is arrogant because men of reason have not themselves been able to meet the standard of knowledge they use as a club to hold over men of non-reason. Throughout history, European and American civilizations have attempted to find a way to get content into the forms of reason, but they have not yet succeeded. Students of philosophy know that reason is absolute only in its pure forms, in syllogisms, or in the exercises of Aristotle’s magic square. It is easy enough to say that All A is B, All C is A, and to draw a conclusion; but if we change A to “Democrats” or “Catholics” or “Americans,” to something which is less than a pure 154 Western American Literature abstraction, then we are hard put to finish even the initial propo­ sition in any way that is not silly. Students of philosophy know also of the tremendous importance of the Cartesian split, of Descartes’ reawakening modern man to the realization of the self involved, intrinsically involved, in the effort to relate the concretions of ex­ perience to the principles of reason. In my own judgment, the most intellectually noble attempt to put content into reason is that of Immanuel Kant; but even if Kant did succeed, modem man does not know it, for we find ourselves today in a world in which the most vital philosophies are those of existentialism (which side-steps the ancient problem by dismissing the universal from court and putting the full burden on man’s individual psychology) and scien­ tism (which side-steps the problem by dismissing both the universal and the individual). Considering the history of man’s efforts to put content into reason, and considering the contemporary status of that effort —a situation so impoverished it has been called the “abdication of phi­ losophy” — it is difficult to understand the general respect for reason except as a cultural habit.1 Contemporary man, it is true, has become skeptical of reason. He is prone to take pathetic pleasure in exposing the fallibility of human reasoning and to show an even more pathetic deference to the infallibility of electronic machines. Still, the respect for reason remains strong enough to enable most readers to voice the old objection against a claim like that of Walter Van Tilburg Clark: you write of sprites and mountain hikes and mystic black painters, suggesting a reality beyond reason, but what objective check is there on your knowledge beyond reason? Granted you may feel such things as substantive, by what standard do you say this supposed reality is a part of my life too? The Watchful Gods is an appropriate test case. It was favor­ ably reviewed, primarily because it was said to be written with skill and sensitivity; but the objections that were made by reviewers consisted almost entirely of doubts about the objective validity of 1 See Arthur Schilpp’s “The Abdication of Philosophy,” The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 153-165
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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