[lit-ideas] Re: Reason and Politics

  • From: Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2006 10:37:33 -0300

I had written:

"Reason becomes preoccupied with its contorted paths and fails to step back
and realize that it aims for peaceful social relations."

to which Walter Okshevsky replied:

"How it is that reason is to be teleologically defined in this particular
manner needs justification. But that notwithstanding, my religious friend
claims that no peaceful social relations are possible with individuals who
deny one's right to religious expression. The entire state and society
suffers (in this life and the after-life) if Harry Potter is permitted in
the schools (sorry, wrong debate.) Indeed, it is a properly construed
understanding of "peaceful social relations" that legitimates the killing of
individuals who fail to recognize the ortho doxa and live by it in word and

A condition for the proper exercise of reason is freedom.  This freedom is
not the freedom to believe whatever one likes but rather the freedom to make
the case for one's beliefs before all people.  One can, of course, appeal to
like-minded folks, Kant's 'private use of reason', but this appeal can only
have force for those like-minded folks.  To take this local appeal as having
general force is to abuse reason and limit freedom.  It is an abuse of
reason in that it uses arguments intended for like-minded folks as public
arguments.  It limits freedom insofar as it constrains the range of
acceptable public beliefs to those held by a particular group.  Where one
has a use of reason that constrains freedom, the constraint of freedom
serves as evidence that reason has jumped the rails.  In short, one can
evaluate an argument regarding freedom of religion by stepping back from its
convoluted paths and asking whether it does violence to the ability people
have to make the case for their religious beliefs.  Where there is such
violence, there is necessarily a lack of freedom.

As Walter notes, many people have put forward arguments claiming that peace
is achieved by enforcing ortho doxa.  These arguments fail in numerous ways,
but for my purposes it should be pointed out that reason is formal in nature
and therefore does not provide us with the beliefs we ought to hold.  Where
reason is employed among like-minded people, Kant's 'private use of reason',
there will develop ortho doxa.  However, in the public sphere, where
differences in goals and attitudes allow for a minimal degree of consensus,
no such ortho doxa is possible.  (To defend this claim, I would draw on
Davidson's article on applying conceptual schema to the world.)  Since
reason does not provide ortho doxa within the public sphere, and any attempt
to restrict people's ability to make the case for their religious beliefs is
an act of violence and constraint of freedom, killing individuals who fail
to recognize the ortho doxa of a particular group is both irrational and a
rejection of freedom of religion.


Phil Enns
Glen Haven, NS
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