What is required in order for rational thinking to even be possible? That’s what we’ll be exploring in today’s blogpost.
Imagine for a moment that you had no control over what thoughts came into your mind at all. At the same time you had no control about your thinking process; that is, how you arrange these thoughts, reason. Instead you had an enemy who had control over both these things. And their goal was to make sure that 90% of your thinking was wrong.
Imagine as well that you were fully convinced that these thoughts and thinking were your own. Even though they’re 100% determined by your enemy. This means regardless of what you experience, what you see, what arguments you hear, you are 90% of the time going to be wrong in your thinking. Effectively you are a puppet determined by another. Even the 10% of the time your thinking is right, you may be thinking rationally, but you yourself are not actually a rational person, since the thinking doesn’t originate from you.
Certain conclusions follow from this:
1) You cannot be considered to be rational under these circumstances because your thinking is determined apart from any choice on your part, so it isn’t rationality from you that is at work.
2) If for example you were given one minute of freedom and realised your situation, you wouldn’t be able to trust the vast majority of your beliefs as 90% of them were determined to be false. In other words, you would have no good justification for your thoughts.
Now imagine another situation, where there exists nothing but physical reality. And everything is determined by the cause and effect motions of physics. That there is no mind behind the universe. Likewise in this situation, your thinking is just another set of physical processes and chemical reactions at work. All of which are determined by physical motions. The only difference being that whereas your enemy determined that your thinking was right 10% of the time, this time there is no mind to determine you’re right *any* of the time. Rather there are impersonal motions which may or may not lead your thinking to be correct.
If you could not be considered rational in the first example, then you could not be considered rational in the second since in both cases you are determined. If you could not trust beliefs when they were 90% determined to be wrong, how much less when it is not determined to any end/purpose, but by chance may be wrong or right. This doesn’t mean then that your chance is 50/50, it would only be the case if your thinking is only ever between two options/conclusions. Which is not often the case.
It wouldn’t be true to argue that evolutionarily, our minds are aimed towards survival, therefore our thinking is true. The problem is twofold. Firstly, that survival doesn’t require or lead to true belief. One could believe that a certain blue berry if eaten, will make them go bald, and so never eat it. Whereas actually it would kill them instantly, not make them go bald. By avoiding it, one lives but the belief that led to this survival was false. So if humans have evolved to survive it does not mean we are geared towards thinking rational true beliefs about reality, but only beliefs which are necessary for survival. But if one is determined to believe as they do, then regardless such thinking will seem rational to them, because that’s what they’re determined to think.
The other problem is that in an impersonal reality where matter and physics are all that is, immaterial values such as “purpose”, which have no physical value (no mass or extension in space) don’t actually exist. Which means it would be incorrect to even say our minds evolved for the “purpose” of surviving. Since impersonal processes don’t have purposes and don’t work towards any goals. Which means our minds are not determined by nature to survive, they just happen to be useful for survival. Our minds are not rational, they just may or may not think correct thoughts.
So in both cases we cannot be called rational, since any conclusion we reach, true or false, are not the result of proper thinking but of an enemy in the first scenario, and impersonal motions of physics in the second scenario.
We also have no justification for thinking our beliefs are *true* beliefs, since they’re only determined to be right 10% of the time in the first scenario, and since they’re not even determined to be right 1% of the time in the second scenario, but rather may or may not be right by chance. And beliefs that promote survival do not necessarily mean said beliefs are true. Therefore under both circumstances we cannot be said to be rational or have good grounds for believing that our thinking produces true beliefs.
If this is true then a necessary precondition for any rational thought, would be the reality of a universe governed by a rational Mind that has granted humans with the natural capacity for rational, true belief and the freedom to choose be rational or not.
So without both freedom from determinism, and a mind designed towards the purpose of rational thought, rationality becomes impossible. And since purpose, in the Aristotelian sense of “final cause”, can only be given by mind, there must be a rational Mind responsible for the universe in which humans find themselves. Without which human reasoning ceases to be intelligible. Ergo, this Mind is the necessary precondition for our intelligibility.