Sunday, 20 November 2016

Antidotes to Extreme Rationalism - quotations on the status of reason

"I enter thoughts of this kind in this account because they arise when I am confronted with nature. If thoughts are simple experiences arising from common sensation, they are sometimes worth putting down. I hope I have Reason on my page. But not ratiocination, not thinking before I experience. It is Wordsworth's "feeling intellect' that holds interest for me. The old adage 'I think therefore I am' is less helpful than the other way round, 'I am,' that is 'I experience, therefore I think.' Wordsworth held that ecstasy is the highest form of thought, since it is the nearest we get to communication with truth."

J Stewart Collis - "The Wood"

"One of(Michael Oakeshott's) most famous anecdotes was about a rationalist and a non-rationalist seeing Helen of Troy. The non-rationalist would marvel at her beauty, at the elegance of the necklace of pearls strewn carelessly around her neck. The rationalist would want to arrange the necklace properly before he could admire it. Taking the world as it is is what Oakeshott recommended: present laughter over utopian bliss."

Andrew Sullivan on Michael Oakeshott from "Taking the World as it is" in The Spectator

"...the fact that our intelligence is not the subtlest, the most powerful, most appropriate instrument for grasping the truth is only one reason the more for beginning with the intelligence, and not with an unconscious intuition, a ready-made faith in presentiments. It is life that, little by little, case by case, enables us to observe that what is most important to our hearts or to our minds is taught us not by reasoning but by other powers. And then it is the intelligence itself which, acknowledging their superiority, abdicates to them through reasoning and consents to become their collaborator and their servant."

Marcel Proust "The Fugitive" page 7 (Everyman's and Millennium Library edition)

"The heart has reasons which the Reason does not know."

Blaise Pascal

"James’s critical genius comes out most tellingly in his mastery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas; a mastery and an escape which are perhaps the last test of a superior intelligence. He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it…. In England, ideas run wild and pasture on the emotions; instead of thinking with our feelings (a very different thing) we corrupt our feelings with ideas; we produce the public, the political, the emotional idea, evading sensation and thought…. Mr. Chesterton’s brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks. James in his novels is like the best French critics in maintaining a point of view, a view-point untouched by the parasite idea. He is the most intelligent man of his generation."

TS Eliot on Henry James

Of Mere Being

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

Wallace Stevens

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