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October 15, 2008

The public use of reason

There are at least two ways in which one could understand the word “reason”:

1. instrumental reason (or economical reasoning) is that type of reason which concerns only the means of attaining a goal. If one has the purpose y than whatever one does is reasonable as long as it helps in attaing this goal. Thus we can talk about reason even when the action is illegal or immoral because what matters here is the efficiency.

2. reason as a goal (teleological reason); reason is held as a value here and it is used to select further values. Being reasonable is something good in itself.

These two views are quite common and hardly worth mentioning however the question that sould arise here is this: what type of reason do we have in mind when we talk about public reason? For example in a public debate should reason intervene when we set our targets or its just an instrument to achieve our ambitions, no matter what these are?

The “politically correct” view would set reason as the low level, the instrumental one – because there we can all agree on our terms, we can all understand each other when we talk about “what is reasonable and what is not”.

The more courageous position would state that we should choose our values in a rational way – but this position will probably arise suspicion because we have only one reason (the kantian, universal reason) so there should be only one set of values to follow and adhere to. This sounds like the beginning of a holy war in the name of reason against all wrong-doers.

In my future posts I will try to show that the nature of values is a rational one and argue in favor of the second meaning of reason.

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