It’s been months since I read Prof Massimo’s article on reasonable discourse. An essay on discussing whether is it possible to objectivity find out the more cogent one among two entirely rational arguments. In simpler words, can one argument be absolutely right but another right-er? If so, how can we proof it?
It’s a topic that I really wanted to touch on since long but never really had the capacity to approach it. So I read the paper over and over and over again while constantly rethinking on what rationality really is and how it may differ among different field of studies. During this time, I also happen to chance upon this book called “The Principle of Sufficient Reason” written by Alexander Pruss. It’s not a book directly relevant to the subject itself but it did provide me with new insights on this whole idea of reason and objectivity which proved itself valuable in sparking my whole imagination on the argument.
I hope that I am ready for the topic tonight so pray that I don’t sound like an incoherent idiot.
In Massimo’s essay, questions and reasons were not used to delineate his point on reasonable discourse, instead problems and solutions. He believes that most problems, be it in science, politics or philosophy, is capable of containing several conflicting yet rational solutions and more times than not, one is surely more workable than the other. That is not to say that rationality exist on different levels, that although one solution is rational, they other may potentially be more rational than the first. What he meant is, depending on the situation, the viability of the solutions may differ and it’s important to understand which are the viable ones, so even by having several rational solutions to one problem, it doesn’t put our understanding on the problem to a halt. We can then pin out the more viable among all and work around it to narrow the gap between us and the problem.
Also, even in rare cases which we are unable to determine which solutions are the more viable ones, assuming we have different solutions to be neck in neck in terms of viability, we can still rule out the ones that are behind the race and work on the more plausible ones first. So in turn, he’s undermining a more practical and effective solution in solving most complex problems at the same time, discovering the limits on such an approach on problems.
Now this may be easily understandable when applied in a study field like politics, when an objective truth can be recognized in most problems by the means of sanctions(ignoring it’s sub branches like metapolitics). If not, group study experiments can be conducted in understanding social behavior and the feasibility of systems and policies.(I am not an expert in political science but within my modest understanding on the nature of the subject, although the above method may not apply to all questions pertaining to political science, I am sure it is applicable to most of it.)
But beyond so, is such a method really feasible in science or philosophy? For different reasons, it shouldn’t naturally taken to be considering the intricacy of both subjects.
In the case of science, since it works on the understanding of empirical data, by having two data that fits in the picture, can we still scientifically say that Data A is actually more rational than data B. Now, that wouldn’t be quite possible would it? For Data A and B to both endure a series of falsification methods and still be allowed to fit in the picture, it would surely mean that both data are rational. And since these methods are just to prove the plausibility of both data and not rank it, it brings us back to square one on whether it’s fair to determine which data is the more rational one.
Since Massimo was focusing on varying viability and not it’s rationality of different solutions, we can move on. That is to say that one Data is surely more workable than the other, be it based on it’s simpler reasoning leading to less resources needed in further experimentation or better security when proceeding with it. And even with problems where there are various solutions deem to be equally viable it doesn’t stop us from filtering the metaphysical solution which are completely unapproachable.
In a more imaginative manner, thinking of the problem itself as a stretch of landscape, the viability of solutions as peaks on it and the answer to be vertically opposite the problem with the peaks reaching for it. Although the picture may not show which peaks are more steady in enduring new falsifications methods in the future, making it potentially more rational than the rest. It gives us a clear view on the low laying areas to avoid and the highest peaks to first work on in reaching our answers.
Moving on from science, how can this be then applicable to philosophy since before something can be considered to be reasonable, the sole idea of reason and rationality itself may be subjective. For something to be considered rational it must be deem fit a solution/hypothesis figured out through the means of reason. But not in every case do these two cooperate, especially in the steep philosophical slopes of our inherent existence and values where reason and rationality are always on conflicting stands.
The philosophy of Absurdism would be the perfect example to demonstrate this. Absurdism as the name suggests, believes that it is absurd for man to be constantly seeking for the inherent meaning of life due to our onwards inability to find any. That is not to say there is no meaning to life at all, that all answers to our existence can only be logically impossible. Fact is, there may or may not be an answer, but all attempts in finding so is futile as verifying it would be humanely impossible. To simplify, since there is a possibility of an answer, it is reasonable for us to find it, but given our limits of verifying this answer it makes us irrational to pursue it.
So knowing the possible contradiction that may occur between reason and rationality, how do we move on? How to we separate the natural tie between reason and rationality. It’s a peculiar yet stubborn idea to even imagine on and I wrestled with it for practically months before stumbling on Alexander Pruss and his wonderful book, “The Principle of Sufficient Reason.” Following that, I did a little bit of my research and found out it’s an original Axiom written by Anaximander somewhere the 550BC. So through the centuries it has been revised thoroughly and Alexander happens to be the last one to wield his magical touch on the theory.
To lazily quote wikipedia, the principle of sufficient(PSR) reason states that anything that happens does so for a reason: no state of affairs can obtain, and no statement can be true unless there is sufficient reason why it should not be otherwise. So basically it’s a militant law that states every change or idea must have a reason, if not, it wouldn’t prove itself to be a substantial one.
In the book he also argued against Hartry Field, a modern mathematician, and his view that mathematical objects do not exist but could have existed. He says, “If the PSR is true, then there must be an explanation of why mathematical objects do not in fact exist, and if the PSR is necessarily true, then in the possible world at which mathematical objects exist, there must be
an explanation of why they exist.”
Clearing the semantics, what Field was trying to say was that, although mathematical objects do not exist in our known world, that doesn’t negate the potential of it to exist. So by applying the PSR to his claims, first of all, there must be a reason on it’s non-existence, on why it’s does not exist albeit having the potential to(Eg.Is it because of the false representation of a certain 2D objects)? And if it’s possible for them to exist, what are the necessary conditions that allows them to?
Alexander wasn’t asking for the mathematical rationalization of Field’s claim, but the least of sufficient reason in making his claim substantial. Rationalization in this case would mean a practicable reason, but reason itself can be metaphysical or otherwise. Applying the same theory back on Absurdism, although the seeking of inherent meaning in life is irrational yet reasonable, it doesn’t mean that a contradiction exist between both ideas, that the contradiction is in fact a coexistence that naturally and necessarily separates both ideas.
So knowing the separation in rationalization and reason, it’s now much easier to understand viability in philosophy. Take normative ethics for example, having Hedonism, Egoism and Consequentialism on hand, which are the ethical theories that are more viable to approach, at the same time, shoehorns our world view. Assuming that all three are equally rational but two are deem to be more viable, we can now first ignore the isolated theory and work on the viable ones.
The headfake is, this isn’t an essay to elucidate and add on to Massimo’s theory, but to slam on the consensus usual unmotivated stance on subjectivity. Truth is, in most field of studies, it’s still impossible for us to objectively prove the more rational solution between two that are already rational, we can only prove which are the more viable ones. But even so, as demonstrated, we can still rationally disagree with issues without being unreasonable about it, at the same time, understand the essential areas which we can tackle on the problem. That is to say that although subjectivity still exist in most of questions that we face today, it’s doesn’t mean we cannot push the limits of it’s subjectivity and there will always be room for progress. To simply conclude an argument by saying it’s subjective is not enough, there are always methods we can approach in discovering more.