“Because we are intelligent creatures — meaning that we are freed from instinctive and patterned behavior to a degree unparalleled in the animal kingdom — we are capable of, and dependent on, using rational choice to decide our futures” (Willard Gaylin).
OUR ABILITY TO THINK RATIONALLY IS A TRULY MARVELOUS ENDOWMENT. In the natural world, we alone possess it. As personal beings, we can differentiate between truth and untruth, and between right and wrong. We can weigh multiple courses of action and choose the one that is best to follow. And with this ability to reason, we have a great deal of freedom. To a much greater extent than the lower creatures, we can choose our own future.
Things like “logic” and “reasoning” and “propositions” may be out of fashion in these days of postmodernism. But in practical affairs, we can’t do without them. In fact, the postmodernist has to use rational propositions to persuade us that rational propositions are bad.
We may as well face it: our feelings flow from our thinking, so the quality of our thinking is critically important. If, for example, a man thinks his wife is being unfaithful to him, he will have certain feelings that are quite natural to that thought. But what if the thought itself is irrational? What if he has misinterpreted certain things she has said or done? If his wife is, in fact, not being unfaithful to him, the feelings he has are inappropriate, and they will be destructive to his relationship with her. So before we grant sovereign authority to our feelings, we would do well to ask whether the thoughts that have produced those feelings are true.
Something else also needs to be given priority, and that is our principles. For example, if my highest principle is pleasure, certain actions will seem logical and reasonable. But if my highest principle is justice, then logic will dictate a radically different set of actions. Our principles form the starting point for our reasoning processes — so our principles need to be chosen with extreme care.
The gift of rationality is a stewardship. We need to use it more often — and more skillfully. It takes practice, but we can learn to base our choices on wisdom rather than folly. We can learn to be reasonable.
“So for the hairsbreadth of time assigned to thee, live rationally . . .” (Marcus Aurelius).