Two opinion pieces I read in January tended to remind me of the way many moderns fail to realize the worth of our faculty of reason, which some who do realize its worth call intellect. These were Russell Wangersky’s column for Jan. 21 and Yoram Hazony’s article in the monthly First Things, promoting “Conservative Democracy.”
Both dealt with the concept of reason, to some degree, as if reason could deal only with material things evident to the physical senses; both of them used reason in a way for which the evidence of the senses alone cannot account.
Hazony contradicted himself by reasoning that reason cannot be the one proper source of political order, for which difficulty his own reasoning apparently was supposed to supply the remedy by also seeking the help of tradition and biblical doctrine. The failure of reason to establish sound politics, however, seems actually to have been the failure of those who hold that reason must deal exclusively with material facts. For if reason can perceive truly that persons ought to experience what they cause, then rational argument from that premise and others like it ought, I believe, firmly to establish a sound political order.
There is a theory which can answer the difficulty Wangersky raised.
Wangersky’s column headlined “The biology of melancholy” suggested that Wangersky, employing intellect not inconsiderable, had some time ago concluded that evolution is the origin of everything and now was at some pains to discover why evolution had resulted in humans being able to perceive beauty; how, he asked, does having a perception of beauty favour our continuing to survive? For, though perceiving beauty can offer a reason for living, yet our sadness at losing it can be a motive for suicide. At least, I think that that was the direction Wangersky’s thought was taking.
There is a theory which can answer the difficulty Wangersky raised. Even if not true, it can seem a complete answer. It is the theory that a perfect intellect existing outside time preceded evolution instead of evolution’s preceding the rise of imperfect intellects, that this perfect intellect affected combinations of matter with many instances of lesser intellect, and that the first human mating pair resisted so utterly at least one essential conclusion of perfect reason as to impair permanently the matter which serves the human intellect.
Therefore, it is fitting that we ought sometimes to regret this enough to feel tangible sadness even though we remain capable of seeing almost an ultimate fittingness, of which perfect intellect is the source, reflected upon the surface of, and not actually contained in, the patterns we find in the material universe. If grateful for this mercy, maybe we can try to endure justice, or even injustice. Just a theory. Maybe worth considering.
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