Recognizing the Limits of Reason

Brooks may overpraise British Enlightenment thinkers—who include Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism and a thoroughgoing rationalist—but he is right in noting that the Enlightenment has not entirely neglected the limits of reason. Regarded by many as the supreme Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant was quite explicit in stating that there are questions that human reason cannot answer. One could go back further and note that Aristotle—commonly regarded as one of the greatest Western rationalists—insisted that virtuous conduct was a matter of habit and character just as much as rational deliberation.

John Gray
“Review: Mr. Brooks’ Miracle Elixir”
The National Interest

Prodded perhaps by its headlong rush to liquidate religion, modern science conveniently forgets that there are limits to the powers of reason and observation. That this truth is espoused by two of the Enlightenment’s shining stars can come as no comfort.

Whether Kant and Aristotle genuinely apprehended the possibility that there was in fact something higher than rationality, logic, and observation is hard to say. But they had the humility, imagination, and intellectual honesty to acknowledge that there were walls beyond which we cannot peer with the tools available to our limited intellects.

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