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Russell W. Shurts

Reason as the Foundation of Civilization

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The initiation of force is the ultimate evil. It inflicts one person’s irrationality on another, and in so doing completely stops that person from living his life. Sports are (or should be) life-affirming activities, where human beings engage in rational tests of skill, endurance and competence in a completely safe setting. For someone like me, then, who both understands these facts and loves sports, the following incidents are even more repulsive.

In the last year we who love sports have been subjected to Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi severely injuring the Colorado Avalanche’s Steve Moore with a sucker punch, Brazil's Vanderlei de Lima being attacked by a spectator as he was leading the Olympic marathon in Athens, Texas Rangers pitcher Frank Francisco hitting a woman in the stands with a chair and the Ron Artest-inspired ‘Rumble in Detroit.’

All of these events hit the sports pages for everyone to know about, but even more disgusting are the following incidents that have personally afflicted me: being caught in a rumble between rival high schools at the end of a state championship basketball game, being personally screamed at from the stands while playing college basketball, listening to a drunken spectator obscenely berate the home team’s coach and players, and finally as the coup de grace, being bull-rushed and challenged to a fight in the parking lot by the opposing coach of my 6-year old daughter’s basketball team. I’m sure almost everyone reading this can cite similar incidents in their own lives, be they sports-related or not.

Simply describing vile behavior, however, does nothing. I despise such incidents with every fiber of my being, but they won’t cease by simply wishing them away. My purpose here, therefore, is to give my understanding of what will be necessary in order to make such incidents rare if not utterly non-existent.

Given the above, any columnist today, depending on his or her political viewpoint, will either decry the general moral breakdown of society, or denounce sports for being too competitive, or condemn society as a whole for being way too violent, or present all of the above as evidence that people do not love one another enough, or excoriate the victims in the above scenarios for not being man enough to confront such cretins physically, or lambaste the authorities for not providing adequate security, or on and on and on into the night … well, you get the picture.

And then at the end of such platitudes, today’s columnist will typically end his piece by figuratively throwing his hands up in the air and declare the problem insoluble, usually by invoking his personal version of ‘Original Sin.’ To which this particular essayist responds with a resounding “Bunk!”

The problem with almost everybody today is they think the world began the moment they were born; that everyone prior to, pick a date in the last 100 years, was an abject moron incapable of thinking about such things as human behavior and how to organize a collection of humans living in the same place so they aren’t continually clubbing each other over the head.

If one studies the history of the human race, one quickly realizes human behavior hasn’t changed – we are today pretty much as we were thousands of years ago. Disagreements and misunderstandings are part and parcel of being human; as is the presence of downright evil in a small but significant percentage of the population.

The question, as it has been since the beginning, is how best to deal with all of these disagreements, misunderstandings and downright evil whenever it is present. The preferred way for virtually everybody for thousands of years (as it still is today for many people) was to resort to violence. See if the following scenario sounds familiar:

I am wronged by another person, so in a fit of anger I find this person and proceed to beat him senseless. But once I have beaten him senseless, if he survives, won’t he be angry and try to come back and beat me senseless? Or if he doesn’t survive won’t his sons or friends be angry with me and proceed to find me so they can beat me senseless in turn, thus touching off a continuous chain of beatings and bloodlust, not unlike what has been happening in many parts of our world since human history began. What I have been describing is savagery and it was (and still is in many parts of the world) the state of human existence for almost 100,000 years. For some people, especially the downright evil ones, this state of affairs is just ducky, for they truly are savages, but for the rest of us, a significant majority, it is a miserable waste of life and human experience. There has to be a better way. There is and the first steps towards developing that better way were taken in ancient Greece approximately 2,500 years ago.

Instead of relying on emotions and superstitions the best of these ancient Greeks, known as philosophers, began to apply the human mind to their problems, including this on-going problem of how to live with each other. And when I talk about applying the human mind, I mean quite specifically the application of reason – the human faculty of identifying and integrating the material provided by our five senses. What the ancient Greek philosophers, and specifically the greatest of them, Aristotle, did was to create the branch of philosophy we now know as epistemology. Epistemology is the science devoted to the discovery of the proper methods of acquiring and validating knowledge.

Epistemology may be a big word, but it truly has a simple meaning. All it really means is, ‘discovering how human beings know what they know.’ Whether you know it or not, you employ epistemology in virtually every waking moment of your life. As a human being you have no choice in the matter, because, as a human being, your sole method of dealing with reality and thus dealing with your continued existence in that reality is through the use of the reasoning ability of your mind. In order to deal with that reality successfully it is critically important for you to be able to rely on that reasoning ability, or in other words, to know what you know.

Until the ancient Greeks came along, however, human beings had no understanding of their reasoning ability, and therefore no guide for how to properly use it. Because of this, any fanciful notion that came into somebody’s mind was likely to be considered just as valid as a rationally derived, logical thought. And if there is no means for determining just what is true and valid, which was entirely the case prior to the beginnings of philosophy then there is no means for determining who is right or who is wrong with regard to any conflicts that arise between men. Decent men, who have no means for determining the correctness of a position will, by necessity, have to resort to violence in order to achieve their goals. There are no other alternatives.

But if such decent men are given the means for determining what is right and wrong, even if such means are but a glimmer, then they can employ persuasion as opposed to violence in order to come to a resolution of their conflicts. This is precisely what we began to see in history around 500 to 400 B.C., where men began to form political associations such as democracies and republics, and began to develop what would eventually become the rule of law. These were the first baby steps taken by those non-evil human beings who wanted something better than the slavery and butchery they had lived with for countless thousands of years.

Before proceeding, however, I must caution against the tendency to ascribe modern concepts of freedom and rationality to people who were just beginning to rise out of savagery. Just as every child must learn to crawl before walking and walk before running, the human race, through thousands of years, had to develop the ability to reason first before applying that reason to more complex subjects and problems. Indeed it is my contention that human beings are still very early in this process, and that this progress has been and continues to be only on the order of two steps forward and 1.999 steps backward.

For approximately 800 years, from 500 B.C. to 300 A.D., first the Greeks and then the Romans made the first progress towards civilization. Do not make the assumption that the people of that time enjoyed lives anything similar to how modern-day Americans live, but also DO NOT diminish their accomplishment. Imagine, if you can, how difficult life would be for children and teenagers of today if they were suddenly removed from civilization and forced to fend for themselves on a desert island. Chances are excellent that such young people would NOT survive, yet they would be considerably better equipped to deal with reality than adult human beings were just prior to the rise of ancient Greece. What the Greeks did and the Romans that followed was to lay the foundation for the civilization we enjoy today. And the men MOST responsible for laying that foundation were the philosophers; the first men in all of human history to apply reason to the solving of humanity’s problems.

Now, a paragraph back I said the progress of mankind has been 2 steps forward and 1.999 steps backward; well the Greeks represent the 2 steps forward but what came next represents the 1.999 steps backward. The rise of faith in the former Roman Empire as signified by the coming to power of the Christian religion effectively put an end to using the power of reason in human affairs. When Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire all human thought in the civilized world had to first agree with Christian theology before it could be disseminated or pursued. If one wished for an answer to a problem, especially a problem on how to deal with another human being, one only had to consult the bible, or more particularly, the priest or church father who interpreted the bible.

The end result of this state of affairs was predictable; over a thousand years of stagnation which history has appropriately named, “The Dark Ages.” This state of affairs would continue today were it not for the re-introduction to the world of the philosophical works of the ancient Greeks and more specifically the re-discovery of the genius of one man, Aristotle, by the genius of another man, Thomas Aquinas. We have the Muslim Arabs of the Dark Ages to thank for this boon to humanity, for it was the greatest intellectuals of their culture who kept alive the study of Aristotle and the other Greek philosophers during this evil time in human history.

Only when Thomas Aquinas embraced Aristotle in the 13th century could human beings once again apply reason to the affairs of mankind. Aquinas was a man of God who believed the ability to reason was God’s gift to Man, and that Man by employing this gift to the best of his ability succeeded in glorifying God. Because this view became the reigning view of the then all-powerful Catholic Church it spawned a massive leap forward in civilization known as the Renaissance. It was during the Renaissance when men of science like Galileo and Newton began to understand and explain much of the natural world through science. Even then, there were still restrictions on just how far human reason could be pursued, as can be seen by the Catholic Church threatening Galileo with burning at the stake if he did not renounce his belief in a sun-centered universe.

Progress was being made, however, and it was the Renaissance that paved the way for the Enlightenment and its greatest philosopher, John Locke, to apply reason to the problems of human society. It is here where we begin to see, for the first time since the ancient Greeks and Romans, how reason could be used to understand human nature and therefore how to properly create a society and a government in concert with that nature. Locke’s philosophy was the philosophical leap forward responsible for the founding of America, and consequently the freedom that is still enjoyed by Americans today. Following is an analysis by The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy of the essential ideas in John Locke’s Two Treatises of Governments; see if you can see anything familiar in it:

“The state of nature knows no government; but in it, as in political society, men are subject to the moral law, which is the law of God. Men are born free and equal in rights. Whatever a man "mixes his labour with" is his to use. Or, at least, this was so in the primitive condition of human life in which there was enough for all and "the whole earth was America." Locke sees that, when men have multiplied and land has become scarce, rules are needed beyond those which the moral law or law of nature supplies. But the origin of government is traced not to this economic necessity, but to another cause. The moral law is always valid, but it is not always kept. In the state of nature all men equally have the right to punish transgressors: civil society originates when, for the better administration of the law, men agree to delegate this function to certain officers. Thus government is instituted by a "social contract"; its powers are limited, and they involve reciprocal obligations; moreover, they can be modified or rescinded by the authority which conferred them.”

In Locke’s philosophy of government you find the theory of natural rights; i.e. the assertion that men are born free, and the further implication that free men, in order to live together, establish government for the purpose of maintaining that freedom through the administration of law. And that furthermore, such a government’s powers are limited, and can be revoked by the men who created it in the first place.

It is a short step from this philosophy to “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

In establishing the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Founders approached the zenith of applying the human faculty of reason to the problem of how people can live together without constantly clubbing each other over the head, i.e. politics. But please remember that I said ‘approached,’ and also remember what I said about progress being 2 steps forward and 1.999 steps back.

Today’s modern reader might assume that because we in America still live under the government our Founding Fathers formed over 200 years ago, we are still just as free and just as civilized as our colonial ancestors were. Nothing could be further from the truth and the culprit is once again philosophy; specifically the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).

Perhaps you have heard some of the following sayings, indeed; perhaps you have said them yourself. Each of them is a modern manifestation of the philosophical sea change for which Kant is responsible. Each quote is followed by the name of the philosopher who originated the idea it represents:

“I can’t prove it, but I feel that it’s true.” Kant

“It’s logical, but logic has nothing to do with reality.” Kant

“It may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” William James

“I couldn’t help it. Nobody can help anything he does.” Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

“Act first, think afterward.” John Dewey

After reading these you might be saying to yourself, “Sure I’ve said those things at different times, but I don’t have to believe those things all of the time. It may have been true yesterday, but it’s not true today.” That idea came from Hegel.

Or in response you might have said to yourself, “But can’t one compromise and borrow ideas from different philosophies, according to the expediency of the moment.” You got that idea from William James.

The essence of all these quotes reflects the essence of Kant’s philosophy, i.e. the obliteration of objective reality and objective truth to be replaced by reality and truth that are only ‘created’ in each person’s mind. It is Kant’s contention that our minds cannot KNOW true reality, and, as such, no claim made about reality can ever objectively be proven true. All of the other philosophers mentioned above developed their own versions of Kant’s philosophy, but it was Kant who developed the fundamental philosophy upon which all modern philosophy has been ‘built.’

At the same time the Founding Fathers were establishing the United States of America, Kant was developing what would eventually become the dominant philosophy of the modern world. Kant in his seminal work, “The Critique of Pure Reason,” explicitly stated his objective, “I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” Alarmed that the Enlightenment embrace of ‘reason’ was slowly eroding religion as a force in men’s lives, Kant made it his life’s work to develop a philosophy where reason would be removed from it’s pinnacle to be replaced once again by faith, i.e. the firm belief in something for which there is no proof.

Kant’s philosophy, in essence, divorces man’s mind from his ability to know reality. To put it more explicitly, in order to follow Kant’s philosophy one must make the following choice: either be logical and certain of something that has nothing to do with the reality in which we live, or make assertions about reality that can never be certain.

Kant was wildly successful, but instead of re-instituting the faith of religion his philosophy ended up plunging the modern world into a morass of skepticism. Kant and his philosophical heirs, Hegel, Dewey, Karl Marx and many others succeeded in propagating this philosophy throughout Europe and subsequently across the ocean to America, where its effects can be seen in such diverse areas as progressive education, New Deal socialism, and environmentalism, all activities which rely implicitly on an epistemology of skepticism, i.e. the inability to know anything.

As the Founding Fathers were installing reason and rights as the guiding lights for an entire nation, the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, was embedding a philosophy in the world that made reason impossible and therefore all the benefits to be derived from reason irrelevant. If men cannot use reason to solve their differences, then they are left with one alternative, the use of force.

Remember how we started down this path at the beginning of this essay:

Until the ancient Greeks came along, however, human beings had no understanding of their reasoning ability, and therefore no guide for how to properly use it. Because of this, any fanciful notion that came into somebody’s mind was likely to be considered just as valid as a rationally derived, logical thought. And if there is no means for determining just what is true and valid, which was entirely the case prior to the beginnings of philosophy then there is no means for determining who is right or who is wrong with regard to any conflicts that arise between men. Decent men, who have no means for determining the correctness of a position will, by necessity, have to resort to violence in order to achieve their goals. There are no other alternatives.

If you want to know why the world we grew up in has become more and more crass, violent and vile, all you need to understand is that your leaders have abandoned reason. They have abandoned reason, because their teachers, and their teachers’ teachers; the philosophers, have convinced them that reason can say nothing relevant about reality or human affairs. But in abandoning reason they are slowly consigning themselves and all of us to the law of the jungle, i.e. to the kind of savagery we supposedly raised ourselves out of over 2,500 years ago. If you have ever rebelled in disgust at the sight of people sticking posts through their tongues or embalming their bodies in tattoos, you now understand that these actions are just one small indication of a civilization slowly reverting back to the savagery from which it started.

At the beginning of this essay I promised to relate my understanding of what would be needed “in order to make such incidents [vile behavior] rare if not utterly non-existent.” Hopefully, my answer to this problem is now readily apparent: In order for that happy day to ever be realized, the best of us, the leaders who run this world, need to return to a philosophy based on reason. Now, a return to the philosophies of Aristotle or of Aquinas, Newton and Locke would be better than what we have today, but each of those philosophers, as great as they were, had errors in their philosophies; errors that evil men such as Kant and Augustine were able to use to defeat them.

There is a philosophy of reason, however, that has no errors in it. I am speaking of Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. To Ayn Rand, reality is objective and unchangeable. Even if every human being were wiped from existence, the reality we exist in would still exist. And to Ayn Rand, the human mind, through its use of the conceptual power of reason, is eminently capable of understanding that reality with certainty.

Ayn Rand is the first philosopher in history to proclaim reason as her only absolute, and I am asking each of you reading this to use your own faculty of reason to understand the necessity of that fact if we are ever going to have the kind of world we ALL want to live in.

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Awesome! I haven't checked all this info, but it certainly sounds right-on to me!

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Until the ancient Greeks came along, however, human beings had no understanding of their reasoning ability, and therefore no guide for how to properly use it. Because of this, any fanciful notion that came into somebody’s mind was likely to be considered just as valid as a rationally derived, logical thought. And if there is no means for determining just what is true and valid, which was entirely the case prior to the beginnings of philosophy then there is no means for determining who is right or who is wrong with regard to any conflicts that arise between men. Decent men, who have no means for determining the correctness of a position will, by necessity, have to resort to violence in order to achieve their goals. There are no other alternatives.

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Logic, systematic thinking and semiotics were developed in places other than Greece, even before the time of Aristotle. In particular the theory semiotics was developed by the followers of Moh in China. Systematic argument in Chinese philosophy began with the Moist school, founded in the fifth century b. C. by the first anti-Confucian thinker Mo Tzu (c. 468 - c. 376 b. C.). He laid down three tests for the validity of a doctrine: ancient authority, common observation, and practical effect. The best known of these were Hui Shi (380-305 b. C.) and Gongsun Lung (b. 380 b. C.?). This group now also includes the Later Mohists and the term `distinction school' (translated as `dialecticians') has become common.

Please take a look at:

http://www.formalontology.it/chinese-philosophy.htm

http://www.hku.hk/philodep/ch/lang.htm

For an overall view of the accomplishments of Ancient (Classical) China see

-The Genius of China- by Robert Temple.

If the Ming emperor had not recalled Zheng_He (Cheng Ho) the great Chinese admiral who knows how much history would have been changed?

For this amazing feat see

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zheng_He

Greece was not the only place where ideas were flourishing.

Bob Kolker

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Logic, systematic thinking and semiotics were developed in places other than Greece, even before the time of Aristotle. In particular the theory semiotics was developed by the followers of Moh in China. Systematic argument in Chinese philosophy began with the Moist school, founded in the fifth century b. C. by the first anti-Confucian thinker Mo Tzu (c. 468 - c. 376 b. C.). He laid down three tests for the validity of a doctrine: ancient authority, common observation, and practical effect.

The first test is the fallacy of Appeal to Authority and the second and third are concrete. contentless, and lack a standard of evaluation such as non-contradiction. Some logic!

The best known of these were Hui Shi (380-305 b. C.) and Gongsun Lung (b. 380 b. C.?). This group now also includes the Later Mohists and the term `distinction school' (translated as `dialecticians') has become common.

Considering that those "best known" Chinese philosophers aren't very well-known and that they didn't have nearly the impact on the modern world that Plato and Aristotle have, I would ask why.

Greece was not the only place where ideas were flourishing.

Just the place where good ideas were flourishing.

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While it is true that China accomplished some levels of civilization higher than places like, say, Africa-ask yourself this one question. If the Chinese were so rational and logical, why are Greek and Latin the first languages in history, and the only ancient languages, to have words such as Citizen, Constitution, Rights, Representation, etc.?

For all the high talk of China, ask yourself what the results were. In China, your life was subject to the will of the Emperor. In Greece and Republican Rome, your rights were protected by a constitution, you had representation in citizen assemblies, you voted for your leaders, and your trial was determined by a jury of your peers.

The Renaissance and Enlightenment were based upon Greece and Rome for a reason. They were the first ones to view the world as a logical, rational place.

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