Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Understanding and Creativity/Reason

People talk about being rational and about using your mind all the time, about thinking about things and sometimes about thinking logically about things, but is all of this one activity? Continental philosophy in the 19th century made a distinction between Understanding and Reason. Understanding was the faculty of the mind that could take something that was given to it and turn it around looking at it, poking it here, there, analyzing it. It could even deduce logical consequences from it, but it was essentially passive, not being able to create ideas that weren't logically derivative from things observed. Reason with a big 'R', or Creative Reason, which is a better English language term, was thought to be the faculty that apprehended wholes and could assemble new wholes, new ideas, out of the basic material that the world and other things including the logical deductions of the understanding gave it. A good way to divide the two up is in making an argument. First, you start with the topic, then you analyze different aspects of the topic, but after that you have to come up with some sort of idea of what all of this analysis means. The understanding rules the first part, Creative Reason rules the second. It makes a lot of sense but raises some very interesting questions for American thought.

By dividing reason itself into two parts, and not counting other parts of the mind like Will and Memory, the identity of 'right' or correct with 'reasonable' takes a little bit of a beating. In which sense of reason do you mean when you make the claim that your idea is right because it's based on reason? Do you mean that you've made specific deductions from facts? If so, doesn't the presence of another part of reason suggest that completely new wholes can be built up from given sets of facts, and that your deduction isn't necessarily correct because it's logically sound within itself?

It could be very valid given the particular creative interpretation that you either consciously or unconsciously have given to the facts, but change that interpretation and your logic collapses like a house of cards. Instead, to prove truth a person who recognizes both parts of reason as existing would have to provide a combination of creative interpretation with logical deduction, where the strength of the creative interpretation against other possible creative interpretations would be the first test of whether or not you were correct. If you can make a stronger interpretation of the facts and then deduce conclusions from that interpretation of the facts that are much more solid and workable than your opponents then you have a good chance of making a case of being right-er.

In a sense, you use the faculty of Creative Reason anytime you have a conversation with someone, you use it when you come up with ideas about how to solve a problem, you use it when you engage in writing academic papers, doing research, performing music instead of just practicing, making art, writing fiction, writing non-fiction. You use it when you analyze the world and come up with ideas about the world.

The two parts of reason, interestingly enough, look like they reconcile the contradiction between deduction and induction. Rational deduction would belong to the understanding while induction from facts would belong to the creative reasoning facility.

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