Chapter 2: The ineffectiveness of isolated rational thought in answering the deepest philosophical questions

[Definition: rational: Its Latin origin is the verb reri to think (with the head)1. A dictionary says typically, "of the reason"; reason: "the mind's power of drawing conclusions and determining right and truth."]

Western civilisation has been greatly influenced by the Greeks and Romans, whose philosophical enquiry with the mind seems to me to have relied almost entirely on the brain. Today, Western philosophy is still dominated by the brain-racking approach. This is too narrow; mind is rather more than brain (a fact which is now commonly acknowledged), so all the logic of classical philosophers, which has been proposed to explain the deepest mysteries of life, has largely failed to use all available mental tools and is thus suspect.

There are various phrases in English which indicate a broader definition for mind. For instance, the mind has probably been working when you say, "I feel this is so." This may have come after much deliberation on any matter whatsoever: but it's not the brain which is the source of such a word as 'feel'.

The futility of rational thought by itself is illustrated in the following. Many Western philosophers with immense powers of logical deduction have seen their theories become largely superseded. They may commence with a heart-felt desire to know the truth, only to let the human biological computer take over almost immediately. I understand that some such philosophers even change their theories almost yearly! For me, this is pointless; such a narrow intellectual approach is doomed to failure.

The Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein breathed some fresh air into the realm of philosophical enquiry, perceiving that there were questions which cannot be answered by logical reasoning and, furthermore, stated in his 'Tractatus Logico Philosophicus', "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." Unfortunately, a group, called the 'logical positivists', mistakenly took this to mean that if something cannot be spoken of then, being meaningless (i.e beyond the scope of linguistic meaning), it is somehow of no importance.

In his subsequent work, 'Philosophical Investigations', Wittgenstein broadened his stance, indicating that similar surface grammar (linguistic forms) could express vastly different intended meanings, at different depths - both utilitarian and religious. He maintained that there is no 'superlanguage' with which one can pan over everything; instead one must look at the context in which words are spoken. In this way Wittgenstein offered a constructive rebuttal to the logical positivists' assertion that language which is beyond (strictly logical) meaning is insignificant.

The preamble just shows that there is no reason to deny the importance of logically unfathomable questions; these can and should be investigated - by the means to be described in Chapter 3: 'Thinking With The Whole Mind.' This is where a spiritual investigation begins. Truth which cannot be proved on paper will be called spiritual. Thus, I deal with propositions which cannot be proved without linguistic ambiguity; I am only trying to give a flavour of that which the super- intellectual linguistic analysts (including the logical positivists) can never touch; and what the latter have to say is generally severely limited anyway.

To turn one's eyes to the East is to behold a revealing contrast. For example, in the Zen Buddhist tradition of Japan, disciples are set koans (paradoxical instructions or questions that have no logical answer) so that they truly realise the limitations of isolated rational mind and break through to obtain spiritual insight. There are numerous koans, of which the following is an example.

The Zen Master asks his disciple,

"What are you carrying in your hand?"
The disciple replies,
"Nothing, Master."
At this the Master instructs,
"Then drop it!"


Footnote

From what I can recall of my classical studies at school, in Roman literature writers often used reri to describe generals thinking/considering battle plans.
Chapter 3 | Contents Page

Paul Trafford 1996,97 Paul's home page