Reason & Analysis
by Brand Blanshard
Reason and Analysis is the much fuller elaboration of Carus lectures first delivered by Blanshard to the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in New York in 1959.
It is a book that has never been much appreciated by professional American and British philosophers who, on the whole, work within the analytical tradition. As Blanshard comments, "The book is, in the main, a critical study of the analytic philosophy of the last forty years."
Though unfortunate, this neglect is understandable. Analytic and "linguistic" philosophy has been dominant in both countries for many decades now, and R&A convincingly displays the many cracks in its intellectual foundations. To choose a single example, Ludwig Wittgenstein, still regarded by some philosophers as among the most important of the 20th century, is here shown to have feet of clay. Wittgenstein's reputation is grounded largely in a theory of meaning elaborated in his Philosophical Investigations; but Chapter V of R&A not only explodes his theory, it briefly outlines the altogether more persuasive position more fully developed in Blanshard's The Nature of Thought.
Some will find this to be a bold assertion. Whether or not it is correct can only be fairly determined by a reading of R&A (especially if followed up by a reading of The Nature of Thought). It can, however, be said that one will not find a convincing refutation of its critique anywhere.
If the broader line of argument presented in R&A is correct, then, following its publication in 1962, there would have been very good reason indeed to take a large broom to the philosophy faculties of many of the leading universities of America and England. And that is almost certainly why few have heard of R&A to this day. Too many egos, reputations, and careers were too heavily invested in Analytic philosophy in its more disoriented forms for Blanshard's accomplishment to be fully acknowledged.
Blanshard himself, however, never even approaches the use of terms like "disoriented". He is quite sincerely respectful of the philosophers who are the subject of his critique; and indeed I am not aware of a clearer or better organized statement of their main ideas.
R&A is the first book of a trilogy cumulatively defending the place of reason in philosophy, religion, and ethics. It follows his monumental two-volume Nature of Thought, which is extremely valuable in itself, and, by providing their conceptual background, also serves to render his trilogy all the more persuasive.
A Defense of Rationalism
Blanshard's mission in writing R&A is stated with typical clarity and brevity (on pg. 49):
"The purpose of this book is to inquire whether the revolt against reason has made out its case. . . .
I take the philosophy of analysis very seriously indeed; it is this sort of logically competent criticism of older ideas of reason that will discredit them if anything can. The larger part of this book, therefore, will be devoted to analytic philosophy, principally logical positivism and the linguistic philosophies that have succeeded it."
Perhaps, though, the greater service Blanshard provides here - and it is an enormous one indeed - is a sometimes implicit outline of a far more fruitful orientation for philosophy, offered in the context of a sharply different intellectual framework. In a nutshell, this is a refurbished rationalism, one more than capable of withstanding the many attacks that have been made upon it. Interestingly enough, I believe it could in some degree be squared with the phenomenological approach to doing philosophy, though Blanshard himself, though aware of Husserl, never points to the possibility of that sort of cross-fertilization.
His views are also quite compatible with the metaphilosophical framework ably described and defended by Mortimer Adler, in books like The Four Dimensions of Philosophy (which would be quite good to continue with after a reading of R&A).
Our preference in book reviews is to provide readers with a few characteristic and valuable passages so they can get some sense for themselves of the flavor of the writer's style and concerns unfiltered by the reviewer.
This is a bit difficult with R&A, as the argument, while plainly stated, lucidly clear, and very closely reasoned, is a bit technical for the most part.
Still, here are a few representative passages.
"Since this is a book in defence of reason, we may well begin by saying, at least provisionally, what 'reason' means.
Unfortunately it means many things. For the philosopher it commonly denotes the faculty and function of grasping necessary connections.
. . . .Sometimes reason is broadened again to describe the sceptical and reflective turn of mind generally. For Hobhouse it is 'that which requires proofs for assertions, causes for effects, purposes for action, principles for conduct, or, to put it generally, thinks in terms of grounds and consequences.' Reason in the widest sense of all, says Thomas Whittaker, is 'the relational element in intelligence, in distinction from the element of content, sensational or emotional' . . . ."
"Both reason as a source of knowledge and rationality as a practical ideal are today under attack. Indeed there has been no period in the past two thousand years when they have undergone a bombardment so varied, so competent, so massive and sustained, as in the last half-century. The purpose of this volume and the two that follow it is to examine the most important of these criticisms as they apply to the theory of knowledge [Reason & Analysis], theology [Reason & Belief], and ethics [Reason & Goodness]. This book will be concerned with the theory of knowledge only, and we shall therefore be concerned with reason in its narrower senses alone. The criticism here has been more technical than in the other two fields; and though the path of the argument will be made as clear as possible, it will take us over parched sands and through some rather dense thickets. Plainly the journey is not one to take unless it is necessary.
How necessary it is we shall know only if we have some idea of the range and power of the revolt against reason in all its aspects. This revolt is not merely a technical attack by specialists. It is that, to be sure, but it is very much more. The suspicion of rational standards is part of the attitude of our day, which enters in subtle and manifold ways into our artistic criticism, our religious belief, our psychology, our sociology, and our politics, as well as our philosophy. It is part of the revolution of our time. 'Since the Renaissance,' as MacNeille Dixon says, 'there has been no such upheaval of thought, no such revolution of values as in the century upon which we have entered. Now as then, within about fifty years, within the span of a single lifetime, all the old conceptions, the previous beliefs in science, in religion, in politics, have been wholly transformed; a change has taken place, one might almost say, in the inclination of the Earth's orbit.'"
At the conclusion of R&A, Blanshard states some reasons for thinking the place of reason in life is crucially and immovably important. And these reasons open on to the next two books of his trilogy in defense of reason.
Pgs. 492 - 493
"Any self-respecting person would be humiliated at the discovery that his conclusions and moral choices were the product of nothing but mechanical clockwork. But there are levels of causality; and there is no reason whatever to suppose that conclusions and moral choices are mechanically determined. In the last chapter we studied a case in point. When a thinker follows a line of implication, the course of his thought is conditioned by the necessity in his subject matter, but far from being humiliated when he realizes this, he finds in it a ground of pride. For a rational being to act under the influence of seen necessity is to place himself at the farther possible extreme from the behaviour of the puppet. For a moral agent to choose that good which in the light of reflection approves itself as intrinsically greatest is to exercise the only freedom worth having. In such cases the line of determination runs through the agent's own intelligence. To think at its best is to find oneself carried down the current of necessity. To choose most responsibly is to see alternative goods with full clearness and to find the greatest of them tipping the beam. This, in a way, is to be determined. But there is nothing mechanical about it. For it is what the rational man means by freedom."
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