Faith and Reason – Part 4

There are some questions about faith and reason that it would be helpful to understand and answer:

Q1. Which is better, reason or faith?
Q2. Is faith a real alternative to reason?
Q3. Do reason and faith sometimes conflict with each other?
Q4. Do reason and faith have separate and distinct intellectual jurisdictions, so that they can never come into conflict with each other?

But before we can intelligently answer these questions, we need to get a handle on the basic concepts:

Q5. What is reason?
Q6. What is faith?

In order to get clearer about the concept of reason, I have started to explore the following questions:

Q7. Can we justify rationality?
Q8. What is rationality?

One key concern about (Q7) is whether a justification of rationality is unavoidably circular in nature. We are talking about a rational justification of rationality, so it seems to some thinkers that reliance upon a rational justification presupposes the adequacy or reliability of rationality. So, when a justification of rationality is put forward, one important question to ask is whether the justification is circular or begs the question.

Based on a dictionary definition of rationality, I have pointed to three levels of rationality:

(1) conscious
(2) mentally normal
(3) reasonable

By “reasonable” I mean having some capacity and tendency to think critically. Just as there are degrees of mental illness or mental retardation, so there are also degrees of reasonableness or of being a critical thinker. Critical thinking involves intellectual skills, habits of thought, intellectual virtues, and experience with conforming thinking to intellectual standards. These skills, habits, virtues, and levels of experience occur in varying strengths.

I plan to start by constructing a justification for the lower levels of rationality, to see whether and how such a justification can be produced. Then I will examine whether and how those justifications avoid the problem of circularity. If I can successfully justify Level1 rationality (consciousness) and Level2 rationality (mental normalcy), that might indicate a way to justify Level3 rationality (reasonableness/critical thinking).

So, the next question to tackle concerns the justification of Level1 rationality:

Q9. Can we justify being conscious?

If you were given the choice to be unconscious for the rest of your life, or to continue to be conscious (except for sleep or surgery), would it be better to remain conscious?

Here is a thought experiment on this question. Suppose that a pill has been designed to make a person permanently unconscious, and that in animal and human testing, the ingestion of a single pill has proven to be 100% effective in achieving this objective. Suppose that you came into possession of one of these pills, would you take it? Should you take the pill?

For most of us, the answer is obvious. It would be foolish to take the pill. However, for some people, who are suffering and living in misery, and who have no real prospect of a brighter future, it might make sense to take the pill. Here in the state of Washington, we just voted to approve an initiative legalizing assisted suicide. The idea is that a person who is suffering from a terminal illness should be allowed the choice to end his/her life quickly and painlessly. So, it would seem that there is not just one correct answer to the question posed in the thought experiment. It all depends on the particular circumstances of the person who is making the choice of whether to take the pill.

I would not take the pill, because my life has been a fairly good life, and my prospects for continuing to live a good life are strong. Being conscious allows me to determine goals and objectives, and to make plans to achieve those goals and objectives, and to take actions to follow those plans. Being conscious allows me to enjoy pleasures, have interesting experiences, develop and enjoy relationships with other people, to learn new things, to engage in discussions about philosophy, religion, and politics, to help other people, to love and to care for my wife, my daughters, my siblings, my parents, and my friends. Being conscious allows me to make a positive contribution to my country and my fellow human beings.

In short, if I don’t take the pill and if I continue to be conscious (avoiding permanent unconsciousness) for another decade or more, then I am likely to continue having a good life, including satisfaction of various hopes, desires, duties, goals, and objectives, both of a self-interested nature, and of a moral or other-centered nature.

There is, however, one clear advantage to taking the pill: this would practically guarantee that I would never experience extreme misery and suffering. But the chances are small that my life will take a big turn for the worse and that I will be facing months or years of misery and suffering, and if my life does become one of extreme and prolonged misery, I will probably be able kill myself and put an end to my own suffering. So, taking the pill now is not the only opportunity I will have to avoid years of living in misery.

To be continued…