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Confidence in Reason: Recognizing that Good Reasoning Has Proven Its Worth

Let us now consider the trait of confidence in reason:

Confidence in reason is based on the belief that one's own higher interests and those of humankind will be best served by giving the freest play to reason. Reason encourages people to come to their own conclusions by developing their own rational faculties. It is the faith that, with proper encouragement and cultivation, people can learn to think for themselves. As such, they can form insightful viewpoints, draw reasonable conclusions, and develop clear, accurate, relevant, and logical thought processes., In turn, they can persuade each other by appealing to good reason and sound evidence, and become reasonable persons, despite the deep-seated obstacles in human nature and social life. When one has confidence in reason, one is "moved" by reason in appropriate ways. The very idea of reasonability becomes one of the most important values and a focal point in one's life. In short, to have confidence in reason is to use good reasoning as the fundamental criterion by which to judge whether to accept or reject any belief or position.

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):

  1. Faith in charismatic national leaders (think of leaders such as Hitler, able to excite millions of people and manipulate them into supporting genocide of an entire religious group).

  2. Faith in charismatic cult leaders.

  3. Faith in the father as the traditional head of the family (as defined by religious or social tradition).

  4. Faith in institutional authorities (employers, "the company," police, social workers, judges, priests, evangelical preachers, and so forth).

  5. Faith in spiritual powers (such as a "holy spirit," as defined by various religious belief systems).

  6. Faith in some social group, official or unofficial (faith in a gang, in the business community, in a church, in a political party, and so on).

  7. Faith in a political ideology (such as communism, capitalism, Fascism).

  8. Faith in intuition.

  9. Faith in one's unanalyzed emotions.

  10. Faith in one's gut impulses.

  11. Faith in fate (some unnamed force that supposedly guides the destiny of us all).

  12. Faith in social institutions (the courts, schools, charities, business communities, governments).

  13. Faith in the folkways or mores of a social group or culture.

  14. Faith in one's own unanalyzed experience.

  15. Faith in people who have social status or position (the rich, the famous, the powerful).

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?"

Test the Idea
Faith in Reason

Think of a recent situation in which you felt yourself being defensive and you now realize that you were not able to listen to an argument that you did not agree with, though the argument had merit. In this situation, you apparently could not be moved by good reasons. Briefly write what happened in the situation. Then write the reasonable arguments against your position that you were not willing to listen to. Why weren't you able to give credit to the other person's argument? In answering this question, see if you can use the list of sources of faith that people usually rely on.

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