Reason: Man's only Counterfeit-Detector

by Wayne Dunn

I have heard that bankers train new tellers to detect counterfeit bills by making them study not confiscated counterfeits, but the identifying features of authentic currency. By knowing the real thing, it's easier to spot a phony. So it is with the currency of ideas.

The mind has only one reality-detector, which is also a counterfeit-detector¾ reason. Apart from reason, apart from using a logical thought process, one has no reliable means of distinguishing truths from falsehoods, good ideas from bad ones.

Many people, for reasons to be discussed, don't seem to realize the number or nature of counterfeit beliefs they've deposited into their mental bank accounts. But just as circulating fake money has a devaluing effect on legal tender, so too do the falsehoods one unwittingly circulates undermine the efficacy of whatever truths one may hold.

Why a person might accumulate such a hodgepodge of beliefs is because he does not abide by a consistent, rational philosophy. Yet without one, his is simply a philosophy-by-default¾ which amounts to a mishmash of random convictions, disconnected ideas, unsubstantiated assumptions, and haphazardly formed opinions, which serve to confuse rather than clarify, contradict rather than codify, entangle rather than elucidate.

Life, then, for such a person, becomes largely a succession of compromises among the conflicting notions rattling around in his head and competing for his allegiance, which likely will be only fleeting. He might fortuitously acquire a few truths, but, lacking a proper philosophical foundation, he would not be equipped to prove them. Unable to prove them, he could not confidently justify them. Unable to justify them, he would be hard pressed to defend them. Unable to defend them, he might well be persuaded to abandon them.

Such uncertainty, such conceptual chaos can culminate only in a lack of confidence in one's ability to deal with reality, with ideas, in a mistrust of one's own mind or of man's mind as such. Resultantly, some such people try to steer clear of the entire realm of ideas, thinking they lack some non-definable quality only a few others inexplicably seem to possess. It is often the idea-avoider whose maxim is: "Never discuss politics or religion."

But there's another brand of mind-mistruster who maintains a begrudging respect for ideas, sensing their importance. He's the sort who's ripe for the first intellectual con-man, or preacher, guru or Hitler who parades into his life brandishing a "special system" or "revelation" or "prophetic utterance" requiring foremost that he reject his "weak, fallible mind"¾ the mind he's learned to doubt anyway. Religious faith is the most common but not the exclusive manifestation of this.

But don't the religionists have a point, you might ask? Since man's mind isn't infallible, shouldn’t then his every mental formulation automatically be viewed with suspicion?

The answer lies in the premise of that question. How does one know that man's mind is fallible? In other words, doesn't the identification of man's fallibility itself qualify as knowledge? Of course it does. The only way one can know that man is capable of mistakes is precisely because one's mind is in fact capable of grasping knowledge, of distinguishing truth from error. Thus, the mind-mistrusters' argument is self-refuting.

Reason is self-correcting. It's a counterfeit-detector¾ the only one that humans possess. His reasoning mind doesn't guarantee him conceptual perfection, but it does provide man the means by which to uncover and correct conceptual imperfections. Reason, then, is man's basis¾ his only basis¾ of knowledge and thus is his singular means of wiping out error. Only through a process of reason can one cut through conceptual chaos, can one integrate valid concepts into principles and valid principles into a non-contradictory, rational philosophy by which to live one's life.

 © COPYRIGHT 2001 by Wayne Dunn

 

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