Monday, December 01, 2008

Reason Reasoning Itself

by tully

It seems that most guys I meet get at least some of their personal philosophy from the Godfather. I'm sure that Gino, guinea that he is, is no exception. Now, the Godfather is a movie that, philosophically, holds reason to be the best way to handle business, and business to be the best approach to life that we can take. Such quotes as Michael saying of Sonny Corleone, "But his temper--too much--clouded his reason," gives the trilogy's protagonist the banner of reason to wave. Hyman Roth, giving him advice in Part II, reminds Michael of the importance of business even when it contradicts humanity, "this is the business we've chosen - I didn't ask who gave the order - because it had nothing to do with business!" The most popular line of the whole trilogy, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse," speaks in terms of rational, business-like efficiency.

But what is the outcome of Michael's commitment to reason? With it, he thrives in his business, but, confessing to a Cardinal, finds himself in moral shambles. His primary objective by Part III is to use reason and business to keep the ruination wreaked by reason in check- to get out despite the fact that they keep pulling him back in. Rather than controlling his life with reason, reason is now in full control of his life. Concerned with his heirs, he finds that the son of his radically rational approach, Anthony, has become a singer, who is totally indifferent to the family business. His daughter is in love with his nephew, and they deny the rational option in his ultimatum, thus both of them are more romantic than rational. Said nephew, Vincent Mancini, resembles Sonny in that his temper clouds his reason. Thus, Michael, the pinnacle of rationality, has given birth to the irrational: the gentle irrationality of an artist, the passionate irrationality of his daughter, and the harsh irrationality of a mafioso, the latter of which becomes dominant. His attempts to legitimize his business fail, his daughter is killed, and Vincent Mancini takes over the family business upon Michael's death. In short, rationality has brought about irrational ruin and destruction, despite the attempts of reason to keep itself in check.

Why is this?

Was his reason just too weak to begin with?

Or was reason too effective in solidifying his circumstances such that reason could not negate its own work?

Or, is reason by its nature incapable of moderating itself, but is rather bound to moderate circumstances alone? Can reason transcend the subject-object framework of domination which is its own doing?

Or is there some other reason for Michael's failure? These are not rhetorical questions! I want answers!

Society is in the same predicament as Michael. The obsession with rational order and domination of circumstances has given us the Holocaust, the Atom Bomb and countless other irrational instances of war and destruction, all of which are implemented rationally. It seems the only hope is for reason itself to reverse its own excess. We must learn from Michael Corleone's mistakes, or we are doomed, in our own way, to repeat them!


RW said...

The use of Reason to implement something that is inherently unreasonable doesn't make the thing being done suddenly reasonable.

Tracy said...

Sure reason moderates itself...perhaps within experience. I once enjoyed the convenience of a diaper and rather rationally so...I miss the freedom of going whenever/wherever I wanted but I rationally have cast it aside all the same...wait a minute...maybe a diaper isn't so bad after all. Nevermind I need to rethink this.

Gino said...

i was wearing a catheter not that long ago.
there was much freedom in that, i can tell you.

tully said...

Tracy: Isn't that more a case of reason moderating freedom and the pleasures that come of freedom (like wearing diapers)?

Gino: Freedom isn't free. Especially when the catheter leaks.

RW: That's a reasonable reply. But is anything really "inherently" reasonable or unreasonable? If we're talking about actions, wouldn't you say one action can be reasonable in one situation and unreasonable in another?

Now, for Reason to implement the action in the latter context would be unreasonable. Is this a matter of ignorance about when the action is reasonable? If so, you're still using reason to commit to an unreasonable action. The choice is made out of ignorance, not out of a lack of reason.

Basically, my confusion is this: is reason an orderly mental faculty by which knowledge and ignorance are employed to make judgments (right and wrong)? Or is reason par excellence always "reasonable" in the sense of using knowledge to make correct judgments?

In the former case, Michael's use or reason can as well get him into trouble as it can get him out of it, and there is hope for him. In the latter case, Michael was never truly reasonable in the first place.

RW said...

is anything really "inherently" reasonable or unreasonable? - Yes.It is reasonable for a man to assume he will be compensated for his labor. It is unreasonable to to think you can go around taking people's money and not have someone take offense. You are treading very close to relative morality here, which is the foundation of much of liberal thought in America. The politics of the maybe not. No such thing as good or evil. Depends on circumstances. Extrapolate that and even Pol Pot was justified. Judas is no worse than Jesus.

There are too many nuances of the term being used in your examples; they seem to illustrate different aspects of reason. That's kind of making your own problem for yourself.

If immoral behavior can be justified by reason you have upended the Judeo-Christian base. Some Corleones used "reason" (as a capacity) to further immoral ends. That didn't change the ends' morality or lack of it.

We shouldn't go thinking Reason is a panacea. It's just a process.

tully said...

I think we're basically in agreement here. To clarify, our difference in the use of "reasonable" is that you are equating it with moral rectitude. I find this confusing because you then say that Reason is not a panacea, but just a process. Do you not say that moral perfection is a panacea?

Are reasonable decisions judgments made along the process of reason which are thereby made possible by reason (reason+able)?

Or are reasonable decisions judgments made upon the completion of the process of reason, which are thereby made possible by reason? If so, then it seems that what truly enables the decision is moral perfection, the panacea, as you put it, as opposed to the process.

I've considered that this is a semantic complication, but upon further reflection I suspect there's something real at play.

RW said...


Night Writer said...

Reason is a tool, not an end in itself. We have the capability to evaluate, rationalize, do cost/benefit analyses and make the "rational" decision. Reason divorced from revelation or a moral foundation, however, is cold and heartless and ultimately "unreasonable." The logical thing to do is not always (we won't get into how often) the right or decent thing to do. The Nazi gas chambers were a logical, resource-efficient solution to an unweildy problem (a problem created, ironically, by an unreasonable emotion that then tried to clean up after itself with reason).

Reason must be applied through the filter of moral fundamentals priorities or it becomes a monster. Submitting reason to this "higher authority" may sound illogical, especially since some will hold that it is our ability to reason that makes us human. I would suggest that it is our ability to think beyond the rational that makes us human. To cite another movie, "Secondhand Lions":

"Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil. And I want you to remember this, that love...true love...never dies. You remember that, boy. Doesn't matter if they're true or not because those are the things worth believing in."

Brian said...

Tully, I have to disagree with your fundamental premise here.

Micheal's fall happens in the first half-hour of Part I, when he returns to his family despite knowing better. He had carved out a life for himself apart from the violence that had ruled his father's life. He could have walked away, and stayed away, but he was pulled back in by his love for his family. This is what determines the course of the rest of his life.

That love may be understandable, even admirable--but it is not reasonable.

tully said...

I like what I'm hearing here! Keep it coming!

tully said...

Brian- It may be more fruitful for you to bear with my symbolism here and adapt it to your contribution: Not only a person's preference toward reason, but reason itself too is born out of a concoction of emotional, cultural and other external factors, just as Michael's reason (meaning: reason as it developed in Michael and Michael's adoption of reason) was shaped by those factors. Those factors are, as you say, irrational.

Now, the question becomes- if this is the way reason is formed, then can any talk of "the eternal nature of reason" even take place the way we've spoken about it. You and RW seem to say that reason is not reason if its origin or its consequence is irrational. In other words, you've defined a process by its beginning or end, privileging these over the process itself. This is not an unappealing approach, but before we discuss whether it is- do you say that the beginning or end or that which lies in between ought to be what determines reason to be rational or irrational? (or "reasonable or unreasonable")

tully said...

Nightwriter: You have a lot of very smart Medieval philosophers on your side- I'd hardly say that your argument is illogical. It's inevitable that I should be confused about such arguments, especially since I haven't had any spiritual experiences in my life. Here are some questions:

Do the fundamental principles of faith have to be interpreted in order to intervene with reason? If so, then does reason interpret them? If not, what does?

Does faith filter reason at the beginning of the process, at the end or reasoning, in the process of reasoning, or all throughout?

Does faith supply the foundation upon which reason operates?

Brian said...

do you say that the beginning or end or that which lies in between ought to be what determines reason to be rational or irrational? (or "reasonable or unreasonable")


I suppose my working definition of reason is that of a process by which one decides upon actions that...are reasonable. A tautology, I know...forgive me, I went to an engineering school.

So I suppose I mean the middle and the end, mostly...the beginning not so much. But I may have to think about that some more.

tully said...

I don't mind the tautology. But it opens us up to this basic confusion (and I thank you for your own clarity-now it's time for me to muddle things up):

First option: Reasonable actions determine reason. So the goodness or badness of an action make it reasonable and thus make reason itself good or bad.

In this case, we objectify reason's end, and thereby objectify and instrumentalize reason itself. Reason cannot reason itself when it is objectified and instrumentalized.

Second option: Reason determines actions to be reasonable.

In this case, reason and reasonable actions are not objectified. Neither are they simply subjective, since we are thinking about them. They seem to be both. Taken in this sense, reason is self-reflective and pure. Reason can reason itself.

Any thoughts? Which reason do you have in mind?

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