Confidence in Reason: Recognizing that Good Reasoning Has Proven Its Worth
Let us now consider the trait of confidence in reason:
The opposite of confidence in reason is intellectual distrust of reason, given by the threat that reasoning and rational analysis pose to the undisciplined thinker. Being prone toward emotional reactions that validate present thinking, egocentric thinkers often express little confidence in reason. They do not understand what it means to have faith in reason. Instead, they have confidence in the truth of their own belief systems, however flawed their beliefs might be.
In many ways we live in an irrational world surrounded by many forms of irrational beliefs and behaviors. For example, despite the success of science in providing plausible explanations based on careful study of evidence gathered through disciplined observations, many people still believe in unsubstantiated systems such as astrology. Many people, when faced with a problem, follow their "gut" impulses. Many follow leaders whose only claim to credibility is that they are skilled in manipulating a crowd and whipping up enthusiasm. Few people seem to recognize the power of sound thinking in helping us to solves our problems and live a fulfilling life. Few people, in short, have genuine confidence in reason. In the place of faith in reason, people tend to have uncritical or "blind" faith in one or more of the following (often as a result of irrational drives and emotions):
Some of the above are compatible, under some conditions, with faith in reason. The key factor is the extent to which some form of faith is based on sound reasoning and evidence. The acid test, then, is: Are there good grounds for having that faith? For example, it makes sense to have faith in a friend if that friend has consistently acted as a friend over an extended time. On the other hand, it does not make sense to have faith in a new acquaintance, even if one finds oneself emotionally attracted to that individual and that person professes his or her friendship.
As you examine and evaluate your own thinking on the nature of different kinds of faith, and the extent to which you have appropriate confidence in reason and evidence, ask yourself to what extent you can be moved by well-reasoned appeals. Suppose you meet someone who shows so much of an interest in your significant other that you feel intensely jealous and negative toward that person. Would you shift your view if you receive evidence by a dependable friend that the person you are negative about is actually exceptionally kind, thoughtful, and generous? Do you think you could shift your view, even when, deep down, you want your significant other to reject this person in favor of you? Have you ever given up a belief you held dear because, through your reading, experience, and reflection, you became persuaded that it was not reasonable to believe as you did? Are you ready and willing to admit that some of your most passionate beliefs (for example, your religious or political beliefs) may in fact be "wrong?"