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Irrationalism

TABLE OF CONTENTS: 1: Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 2 2: What is Irrationalism?………………………………………………………………….

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. 2 3: Origins of Irrationalism……………………………………………………………………………. 2 3. 1: The Limits of Rationalism………………………………………………………………………2 3. 2: The Religious Issue……………………………………………………………………………….. 3 4: Historical Synopsis……………………………………………………………………………………3 4. 1: Ancient Greek Era…………………………………………………………………………………4 4. 2: Medieval Mysticism…………………………………………………………………………….. 4 4. 3: Modern Era…………………………………………………………………………………………. 4. 4: The Historical Culmination of Irrationalism………………………………………….. 5 4. 5: The Twentieth Century…………………………………………………………………………6 5: Critical Evaluation……………………………………………………………………………………7 5. 1: Irrational vs. non-rational……………………………………………………………………. 7 6: Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………………… 8 7: References………………………………………………………………………………………………9 1. 0: INTRODUCTION: The term irrationalism, which depicts a 19th and early 20th century philosophical movement, is a trend that claims to enrich or broaden human apprehension of life beyond the horizon of reason.

This movement, as shall be demonstrated in this work, arose as a sort of reaction against the traditional over bloating of the capacities of human reason. Thus, it sought to incorporate other aspects of human life such emotions, will, passion and even faith. Accordingly, such movements like voluntarism, mysticism or religion, romanticism et al, find their place within this trend. But it must be noted at once that this movement does not seek to negate or refute the capacities of human reason.

Instead it seeks to postulate that with rationality alone, human beings cannot explore certain areas of life which are in themselves unavoidable experiential data of human life. It is to delineate elaborately on the tenets of this trend that this work is poised to do. To achieve this, we have opted to render this exposition in accordance with the above given outline. 2. 0: WHAT IS IRRATIONALISM? Irrationalism refers to “any movement of thought that emphasizes the non-rational or irrational element of reality over and above the rational” .

More than a school of thought, irrationalism is a multi-faceted reaction against the dominance of rationalism. As such, it played a significant role in western culture towards the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century. Irrationalism need not be opposed to reason. It can consist of a simple awareness that the rational aspect of things tends to be overemphasized and that this needs to be compensated by an emphasis on intuition, feeling, emotions, and the subconscious, etc . 3. 0: ORIGINS OF IRRATIONALISM:

There are at least two main sources of irrationalism, viz: ?The Limits of Rationalism: First, we see that even the most consistently rationalist approach of the world will yield, in the end, some ultimate notions that can no longer be grasped or expressed through rational language. Such include questions of truth, goodness, beauty, and so on). This clearly appears in ancient Greek philosophy. In the eighteenth century Enlightenment, a somewhat superficial confidence in reason was often maintained, and the question about ultimate realities was thus avoided.

Still, Voltaire, a typical representative of the “Lumieres,” was very skeptical about the natural lights of human reason and the ability to find definitive answers. Nineteenth century Positivism, finally, appeared as the culmination of human confidence in reason based on scientific advances. The positivists’ belief that scientific reason would make all other approaches obsolete, however, was soon largely rejected as a naive illusion. Irrationalism has therefore acted as a recurrent challenge to the belief that analytical or deductive reasoning was the alpha and omega of human mental activity . The Religious Issue: A second challenge to the preponderance of reason has come from the religious side. All the world’s religious traditions, based on immediate experience as much as revelation, have an acute awareness that the human predicament is at odds with the very ideal of perfection and happiness. In Christian thought, there is the dual notion of God’s judgment and his grace, a position best expressed by the apostle Paul and revived most famously by the Reformers, such as Martin Luther King Jnr. nd Jean Calvin. The very notion of sin in a world created by an omnipotent and good God seems contradictory to reason. This dissonance is heightened by such paradoxical biblical formulations like, “those who want to live will die and those who want to die will live” and “the first shall be the last. ” Thus, in the religious context, irrationalism takes on the nature of paradox and mystery. It is not possible for unaided human reason to fully grasp the meaning of the human condition.

It has to be accepted that two basic facts (God and evil) coexists in a way that cannot be rationally explained. Only faith or spiritual intuition can somehow comprehend what is meaningless for reason alone. This position maintains a strong presence, even where attempts at offering rational explanations abound. In various different contexts, other world religions have approached the same basic issue and offered a response that invariably amounted to a rejection of rationalism .

In the religious world of the Far East (notably India and China), the response has often been sought in higher wisdom involving spiritual perception and allowing the believer to see how seemingly contradictory notions can harmonize on a higher plane. There is also a general insistence on the need to find the right attitude in approaching everyday life and its ultimate questions. Finally, in Zen Buddhism, enlightenment through direct experience, by which one is jolted out of one’s habitual condition, is seen as the answer.

Thus, religion’s response to the limits of reason tends to have a strong emotional, experiential, and voluntary component. 4. 0: HISTORICAL SYNOPSIS: The history of western philosophy has been overwhelmingly dominated by the notion that reason and intellect determine the value of thought, culminating in eighteenth century rationalism, nineteenth century positivism, and twentieth century logical positivism . Irrationalism has thus mostly been a secondary reaction defended by a few minor figures, an element embedded in the thought of otherwise rational thinkers, or an underlying and largely hidden element.

A closer look, however, reveals the importance of non-rational issues and the emotional factor, notably in fields like ethics, aesthetics, education, axiology, and even such a bulwark of rationalism as epistemology. Irrationalism became a major force in western culture for the first time in the nineteenth century. Its impact reached far beyond philosophy and the academia and was felt in the whole of society, including the political sphere, from the Romantic period to World War II, and beyond. ?Ancient Greek Era:

Ancient Greek philosophy is generally recognized as the paragon of rational thinking. Its giants, Plato and Aristotle, viewed the rational mind as the essence of human identity. For Plato in particular, the realm of emotions linked to physical existence represented the lower counterpart to the eternal beauty and goodness of immaterial, rational souls. But his philosophy in fact culminates in a strongly mystical form of idealism. The immortality of the soul, eternal truth and beauty in particular, are introduced as the result of a higher insight, not of deductive or analytical thought.

Such a trend continued in Neo-Platonism. Plato and his mentor Socrates are also related to the Mystery religions of ancient Greece which are often referred to in mythical form in the Platonic dialogues . The Eleusian Mysteries and the Delphic Sibyl are two examples of what Nietzsche would later call the “Dionysian element of exuberance and spiritual drunkenness” in Greek culture—an element that would combine with the plastic and formal element of light, the Apollonian element, to produce the masterpieces of Greek culture.

In earlier Greek philosophy, that element could already be found in the works of Empedocles and Pythagoras. It was very influential in Greek tragedy and poetry. The cryptic aphorisms of Heraclitus, another pre-Socratic philosopher, also stand in stark contrast to the smooth flow of rational discourse, though his dialectic does not directly advocate irrationalism . Finally, the notion of destiny of fate arbitrarily willed by the gods of the Olymp constitutes an endorsement of irrationalism. Within such notions, things don’t make sense.

They just have to be accepted. ?Medieval Mysticism: In medieval thought, irrationalism appears in the form of mysticism and voluntarism. Even Thomas Aquinas, probably the most rationally oriented of the middle age theologians, had a mystical experience towards the end of his life in which it appeared to him that all he had written was like “straw” . Mystically oriented writers like Meister Eckhart and Jakob Bohme saw knowledge of God as limited to negative theology. For the via negativa, the only positive statements that could be made about God were those negating ossible limitations of his Being (God is not finite, etc. ). The whole history of medieval thought – which reflected Christianity, Judaism and Muslim—was about defining the boundaries of the rational philosophical approach in its confrontation with faith, i. e. an approach that transcends human reason. ?Modern Era: Among the great metaphysicians of the seventeenth century such as Descartes, Leibniz, inter alia, French Catholic thinker Blaise Pascal represents an illustrious exception.

The highly intellectually gifted mathematician came as an early precursor of Christian existentialism and famously stated that the “heart has its reasons that are unknown to reason” . Pascal also made the equally famous distinction between the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the “God of the philosophers,” i. e. , understanding through revelation and understanding through reason . Pascal’s position somehow forms a continuation of the Augustinian tradition defended by Duns Scotus and its volutaristic emphasis on the will to believe, rather than rational conviction. The Historical Culmination of Irrationalism: The real breakthrough of irrationalism came with the backlash against the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the subsequent wave of Positivism. At the end of the eighteenth century, Immanuel Kant had concluded that reason cannot give certain and ultimate knowledge about reality, especially not about God and the transcendent. In this, he wanted to make place for faith, which he also saw as a form of reason. The question over what counts as reason and what does not would thus later become an important one.

For many, “anything not related to scientific knowledge of the empirically known universe does not qualify as reason” . For others, especially in the era of Romanticism, “the mind’s innate ability to recognize the reality of the Ultimate represents the highest peak of reason” . At this point, one has a convergence between rationalism and irrationalism, with mostly a difference of terminology. Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Jakob Friedrich Fries, and Johann Georg Hamann are noted representatives of that period .

The German Idealists are another example of thought systems developed with great emphasis on rational thought, but culminating in often highly irrational speculation. This is true even of Hegel, and his panlogism, and much more so Schelling, especially in his later, mystical phase . With Arthur Schopenhauer, irrationalism is embraced fully in the form of voluntarism . A blind will is presented as the foundation of existence, while the world of rational representations only forms the deceptive surface of things (in ways similar to Indian thought).

Friedrich Nietzsche was equally skeptical of the west’s rational tradition and its shallow ethical codes, stressing such notions as the will to power and the playfulness of a child . In the Christian tradition, Soren Kierkegaard was strongly critical of the rational constructions of Hegel and proposed the “leap of faith” of the existentialist attitude as an alternative. His overall orientation, usually without the Christian connotation, would be maintained in the thought of twentieth century existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre.

For Henri Bergson, whose intuitivism was based on the notion of elan vital (vital thrust), rational thought was equally ill-equipped to grasp the essence of things. Finally, even a strongly intellectual philosophy like Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology is based on intuition as an element that comes prior to rational analysis in the perception of reality. The above list of names, to which many others could be added, exemplifies what Paul Tillich had in mind when he referred to the strong irrational undercurrent in western thought.

Philosophical irrationalism would expand into many other areas of culture, including history (as shown in the works of Wilhelm Dilthey and Oswald Spengler) and, most famously in psychoanalysis (as shown in the works of Sigmund Freud, Carl-Gustav Jung). The latter’s implication is that irrational unconscious forces are really shaping human life. William James would espouse another form of non-rational emphasis in explaining the workings of the mind and that is Pragmatism, which argues that positions are essentially justified when they work. The Twentieth Century: The clash between rationalism and irrationalism would continue throughout the twentieth century, with rationalism being reinforced by the stunning development of science and irrationalism being bolstered by the obvious senselessness of many world events. A possible point of convergence has been contemporary science’s recognition of the inadequacy of the traditional mechanistic worldview and its advocacy of a much greater sophistication in attempts to grasp the nuances of its key notions.

This has led many to abandon scientific reductionism and its denial of the unfathomable realm of the spirit. In the philosophical world, postmodernism has seen a wholesale rejection of all hitherto accepted certainties. Thus, there is paradox of a contemporary world where humankind has a firmer grasp and control over natural phenomena than ever, but one in which, at the same time, the rational nature of that world has been increasingly challenged in ontology and epistemology as well as in ethics (e. g.

Nietzsche and more recently Michel Foucault and their refusal to accept given norms) . 5. 0: CRITICAL EVALUATION: From the foregoing, it is clear that much of what passes for irrationalism, in fact, does not challenge the validity of reason, but rather opens the possibilities of other realms of investigation that had been previously ignored by the rationalist tradition. This comes together with a rebellion against the rationalization of a reality that is perceived as absurd or ethical rules that are perceived to be abusive in their pretension to be rationally grounded.

Nevertheless, the thrust of our evaluation herein shall focus on distinguishing between two terms that may seem compounded. This shall enable us with the ability to conclude whether the philosophers of this trend were either irrational or non-rational. ?Irrational vs. Non-rational: The difference between non-rational and irrational is not as easy to define as it may appear. German authors, like the philosopher of religion Rudolf Otto, often use the equivalent of the English “irrational,” but translators of their writings prefer to use “non-rational” to avoid giving the impression of an anti-rational bias.

Indeed, in a context such as Otto’s, irrational is meant to convey the meaning of something that eludes the grasp of reason, a depth dimension of the human psyche that cannot be appropriately expressed in rational language. It does not mean that the author rejects the rational discourse altogether. In the case of Otto, the contrary is the case. This author strongly stresses the need for academic discourse to proceed according to strict rational rules and to avoid the excesses of romantic enthusiasm. Otto merely wants to show that reason is not alone and that once it has spoken, something remains that can nly be grasped intuitively and expressed in symbols. Similarly, today’s sociology of religion generally understands myths as a genuine and irreplaceable component of the human discourse, one that can express certain realities better than straight scientific talk and even reach where that talk cannot go. There is no negative connotation attached to myth under these circumstances. 6. 0: CONCLUSION: In the end, the understanding of irrationalism in the sense of non-rational or irrational is a matter of worldview.

For those who consider that the universe and if applicable, the Supreme Being, form a whole that is non-contradictory and where intellect, emotion, and will coexist harmoniously as different aspects of that reality, non-rational will have to be chosen as the proper expression. In that perspective, irrational will have to be reserved for the cases of opinions or behavior that fails to abide by the accepted rules of reason—not to describe that which transcends the realm of reason. In the main, few will defend a strong version of the opposite position that contradiction lies at the heart of everything.

Such a position would make any discourse impossible, including that of those who hold this position. But various thinkers have emphasized the paradoxical nature of reality. In such a view, reality may not be fully contradictory, but it presents essential features that will always stand in paradoxical position to each other. Such is in general, the position of dialectical philosophy. Other strong forms of irrationalism are those which argue a fundamentally absurd nature of the world or the complete irrelevance of the rational discourse.

Be these as they may, we rest our case in the contention that irrationalism stands at par with rationalism with only a slight difference in their respective emphasis. REFERENCES: ?Benne, Kenneth D, Contemporary Irrationalism and the Idea of Rationality, In: Studies in Philosophy and Education. Volume 6, Number 4 / December, 1969 ? Bergson, Henri, Creative Evolution. Dover Publications, 1998, ISBN 978-0486400365 ? Dewolf, L. H, Religious Revolt Against Reason, Greenwood Publishing, ISBN 978-0837100616 ? Kierkegaard, Soren, Concluding Unscientific Postscript.

Princeton University Press, 1941. ISBN 978-0691019604 ? Kierkegaard, Soren, and Howard Vincent. Philosophical Fragments, Princeton University Press, 1962. ISBN 978-0691019550 ? Nietzsche, Friedrich, Beyond Good and Evil. Digireads. com, 2005, ISBN 978-1420922509 ? Nietzsche, Friedrich, and Walter Kaufmann, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, Vintage, 1989. ISBN 978-0679724629 ? Pascal, Blaise, Pensees, LGF Livre de Poche, 2000, ISBN 978-2253160694 ? Plato, The Symposium, Penguin Classics, 2003, ISBN 978-0140449273 ?

Schopenhauer, Arthur, “Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung”, 1818/1819, vol. 2: 1844 (The World as Will and Representation, sometimes also known in English as The World as Will and Idea), Dover Publications, 1966. ISBN 978-0486217628. ?Stumpf, Samuel E, “Philosophy: History and Problems”, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. , 1221, Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, 10020, ISBN 0-07-240635-6, Sixth Edition, 2003. OTHER SOURCES: ?Encyclopedia Britannica. com. ?Guide to Philosophy on the Internet. ?Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ?The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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