Monday, May 17, 2021

Reasoning and Use of Reason

A distinction that should be recognized more often is that between reasoning and use of reason (or use of reasoning). Reasoning can be a spontaneous activity, something we just do; use of reason is a deliberate action with a goal. Both are necessary for a fully rational life. But spontaneous reasoning and use of reason are often quite different.

The distinction is not unheard of. Something like it is the foundation of the notion of an 'age of reason' -- obviously children reason spontaneously, but the age of reason is when they become able to use reason consistently for specific ends; use of reason is essential for mature behavior, and it takes time and practice to be able to be consistent in it.

The distinction is also important for perversion accounts of lying -- i.e., accounts that hold that lying is wrong because it is a perversion of reason. Any perversion has to be with regard to the use of something qua usable, which is historically called a faculty; if we are considering only what is spontaneous, it might be accidental or literally unavoidable rather than perverse. There could only be a perversion of reason in cases in which one is deliberately using the faculty of reason. If you speak a deceptive falsehood to someone without thinking, this is not the same kind of thing as using your reason to deceive someone by speaking falsehoods; it's the use of reason that makes the latter a lie in the proper sense.