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Monday, July 26, 2010

Rational Dress

Rationalists like to believe that they have tossed aside all prejudices, and that the way they do things is based upon pure reason. I recall a rationalist, in the comments here, scoffing at my nod to the importance of tradition in judging the propriety of laws. At one point he asked me, "I suppose you'd be fine living in a culture that forces women (but not men) to cover their face in public, as long as that is customary?"

Of course, as Oakeshott pointed out, devising some "rational" way of behaving by starting from a blank slate, after having rid oneself of all influence from traditions of behaviour, is an impossibility. So to a student of Oakeshott it comes as no surprise that my rationalist interlocuter didn't seem troubled by the fact that he is just fine living in a culture that forces women (but not men) to cover their chest in public, because that is customary.

5 comments:

  1. "Rationalists like to believe that they have tossed aside all prejudices, and that the way they do things is based upon pure reason."

    I don't think the problem is specific to rules of behavior. Without axioms, nothing can be deduced; and axioms by definition have no rational justification.

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  2. PSH, it is true that in modern, "foundationless" logical and mathematical systems, axioms have no rational basis. The classical philosophers would not have seen it that way, however. One chose axioms that reflected, as best one could, the ordering of the λογοσ. The fact that many thinkers today suffer from logophobia does not conclusively decide this matter.

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  3. But if "pure reason" entails reliance on intuition (and how else does one get in touch with the logos?), what remains of the polemic against prejudice? Its practitioners can denounce the basic beliefs of others as "irrational" (for being out of sync with the transcendent logos)—but unless there is a contradiction in their adversaries' systems, they cannot give any logical demonstration of this.

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