REASON AND RATIIONALISM T here are several views on how to understand or define ‘reason’ and ‘rationalism’. In the ancient and medieval worlds whether in Asia or Europe, ‘reason’ was often defined in practical terms as an innate trait or faculty of the person; or in a more theoretical vein as a non-spatial ‘substance’ belonging to the immaterial realm of existence, while at the same time forming part of the humansoul with the capacity for perceiving knowledge and exercising cognition. Asan avenue for knowledge and a cognitive function , reason involves the distinction between innate ideas or conceptions (either as ‘intuition’, or as inborn direct necessary knowledge), and that of acquired or demonstrative knowledge—including both sensory experience, revealed guidance, as well as formal rational procedures for ascertaining truth. Furthermore, reason was always intimately linked with the affective and intentional reality of ethical action at the level of conscience and will; and it was deemed central to self-awareness, personhood, and consciousness.
In contemporary understanding ‘reason’ is most often defined as a ‘mental faculty ’, namely a faculty of the human ‘mind’ having a distinctcapacity for knowledge —in contrast to sense experience. This ‘mental faculty’ conception of reason is at the root of the opposition between Rationalism and Empiricism, since the latter gives priority to sensory data. ‘Science’ proceeds from empirical observation and measurement, while its truth claims are generally seen to adhere to a canon of formal rational procedures yielding probability in most cases. Current notions of reason and mind almost always embrace aphysicalistic ‘brain ’conception ,[^6] as in the science of cognitive psychology based on empirical bio-genetic and neurophysiological studies. One major trend in current cognitive psychology stresses the biological basis of cognition by studying the neurophysiology of meaning-perception in knowing beings.[^7]
It needs to be emphasized that these current notions of reason derive from the period of the Enlightenment and from Continental Rationalism, and they reflect a confidence in the unbridled powers of the human intellect (viewed in terms of ‘brain-mind’) as a source of knowledge. Intellect was then conceived of in opposition to ‘faith’ and uncritical acceptance of traditional revealed authority, as well as to superstition and magic. The Eighteenth-century European thinkers of the Enlightenment opposed the traditional Christianity of the institutionalized Church by rejecting ‘non-rational’ factors of traditional spiritual authority and faith, and they viewed reason as contrasted with ‘feeling’ or ‘emotion’. Modern notions of reason and of rationalism arose out of this spirit of anti-supernaturalism, being an anti-religious and anti-clerical movement of utilitarian outlook stressing historical and scientific arguments against theism. Thus, the notion of ‘soul ’ is now considered problematic due to its spiritualistic connotations, and the term ‘mind ’ has replaced ‘soul’ in current western discourse.Presently the term ‘rationalism’ appears on the way to being replaced by ‘humanism’; while the term ‘irrational’ conveys a (negative) connotation of ‘spiritual’ or ‘supernatural’ being linked to transcendent Values.