Human Reason Is Not Our Moral Authority

The primary goal of this post is to point out that human reason is not a moral authority. If there are authoritative moral commands in our reason, they are not issued by reason itself. What is reason?

Here is the outline of the structure of reason I attribute to reason when I make my case that reason is not moral authority. I support my claims about the structure of reason by citing phrases which seem to presupposed reason has the structure I am attributing to it.

First there is reason itself considered by itself, viz., apart from any human or group of humans. Reason itself considered by itself is the candidate for the moral authority. We say “According to reason . . “

Second there is human reason. Human reason is a vast collection of what has been and is being thought by human beings through the ages. There are numerous subclasses of human reason, e.g., the thoughts of various civilizations and religions.

“Reason” is used descriptively in the phrase “human reason.” There is no claim that what comes from human thinking is always correct although those of us who are not total skeptics believe that there are some truths produced by human reason as well as some truths recognized by human reason. Human reason is logically inconsistent although human reason considered by itself is assumed to be consistent and always correct.

We need to assume that there is human reason because we cannot talk about reason in individuals without assuming that they learn to think by learning the thoughts of some culture – some subclass of human reason. We say “Human reason varies from culture to culture. . .”

Third, there is reason itself embedded in each human being. Call this “reason itself imbedded in individuals.” Reason itself embedded in individuals is the same in all people and is the same as reason itself considered by itself. We say “If I would only follow my reason, I’d get it right.”

Fourth, there is the reasoning of each individual where “reason “ is used descriptively as the collection of all the sense and nonsense we think. Call this “personal empirical reason.” We say “I can’t figure it out; my reasoning is all messed up.”

*There’s more. Fifth there is reason itself embedded in the collective of human thinking or reasoning. Call this reason itself embedded in human society “public empirical reason”. Talk of reason as the moral authority commits us to a social realism which holds that societies in some way think. We say “Human reason is biased.”

Human reason itself considered by itself, human reason itself embedded in individuals and human reason itself embedded in societies are the same and reason so considered is the alleged moral authority.

Assume that there is a single entity designated by “human reason itself.” Could this entity be our moral authority? Acceptance of this entity is to accept no more than the reality of human reasoning. Human reasoning does not enchant reality. Only a hard core dogmatic materialist would hold that acceptance of human thinking is something like accepting a demi-god. But a moral authority enchants reality . In the previous post we brought out that acceptance of a moral authority is acceptance of something like a demi-god. From that post, recall that a moral authority has a kind of omniscience about all violations of moral law, has anger or wrath about violations, decrees that harm ought to come about because of the violations and has some considerable capability to have that harm brought about.

So for an authoritarian morality, human reason cannot be the moral authority. This result disappoints me. I thought that adopting an authoritarian moral theory would enable me to give a stronger argument for a fundamental traditional principle of sexual morality than I gave in my book**. I hoped that I could show that the principle in question was a principle of reason and thereby had authoritative force.

This result does not show that an authoritarian moral theory is incorrect. Nor does it show that reasoning is irrelevant in trying to convince people of a moral principle. Reasoning plus action in accordance with what we say is all that we have to convince others. It is just that when we give others reasons, even compelling reasons, for a moral principle we are not giving them the command of a moral authority.

*All of these distinctions could be expressed much more exactly in the terminology of Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy. But I do not plan to investigate the distinctions and assumptions systematically. My aim has been to show that they seem to be presupposed by our ordinary talk about reason.

**My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





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