What is rationality? (Part 1)


It’s been a while, but tomorrow night The New Inklings meet again! The time is 7 pm. The place is the Downtown House Bar and Cafe at the Downtown Backpackers, corner of Bunny Street and Waterloo Quay, Wellington.

We discuss philosophy (mainly) and theology. You’re welcome to join us, provided that you are (1) irenic, and (2) rational. If you don’t know what it means to be irenic, Google is your friend. If you don’t know what it means to be rational, well … tomorrow night’s discussion topic is for you!

the nature of rationality and what a commitment to Reason entails

So I thought I’d jot down a few recent thoughts … and start a series of posts … on this fundamentally important to everything topic.

Here’s my all-time favourite Ayn Rand quote.

To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality.

I used to love to brandish this one at Ayn Rand’s hypocritical followers. I say ‘used to’ because it’s just dawned on me that Rand got it completely wrong! (Yet again! Wotta surprise!)

To arrive at a contradiction is NOT to confess an error in one’s thinking. To arrive at a contradiction is the strongest confirmation possible that there is NO error in one’s thinking!

And to maintain a contradiction is NOT to abdicate one’s mind nor to evict oneself from the realm of reality. At least, not in the short-term, probably not in the medium-term and possibly not even in the long-term! NOT to maintain a contradiction, in the short-term at least, would be irrational in the utmost extreme!

I really don’t know why I didn’t see this sooner … perhaps you don’t see it yet, so I’ll explain.

The simplest example of a contradiction is a proposition and its negation. P and not-P. Two propositions are contradictory, or inconsistent, if they cannot both be true. Three propositions are mutually contradictory, or form an inconsistent triad, if they cannot all be true. Four propositions that cannot all be true form an inconsistent tetrad. And so on and so forth.

None but the completely insane ever believes P and not-P. But believing A, B and C, where A, B and C cannot all be true? This is a commonplace. But most people who believe A, B and C don’t notice the inconsistency. A and B don’t contradict. B and C don’t contradict. C and A don’t contradict. It’s the mutual inconsistency that gives rise to the contradiction. To arrive at the contradiction you actually have to have some logical nous. You have to be able to recognise that

(P1) A
(P2) B
Therefore, (C) not-C

is a deductively valid argument. So to arrive at a contradiction is actually to confirm that you have at least a basic grasp of logic! Which most people don’t.

So you’ve arrived at a contradiction. You believe A, B and C and you are cognizant of the contradiction. You know your beliefs can’t all be true. You know that (at least) one of them has to go. But which one? You’d better sit down and try to figure that one out. But you don’t want to reject the wrong belief. So, in the meanwhile, you’ll maintain the contradiction. Take your time. It’s the rational thing to do.

12 thoughts on “What is rationality? (Part 1)”

  1. Reed, there’s no error. Just a really bad explanation. 😎

    So I’ll give you an actual example, with actual propositions. Which is something I should have done in the first place. So here‘s the example. It’s an inconsistent triad. The following three propositions cannot all be true.

    X. God does not exist.
    Y. If God does not exist, then there are no moral facts.
    Z. There are moral facts.

    Take any two of the above as premises of an argument. What follows as the argument’s conclusion is the negation of the third.

    (P1) There are moral facts.
    (P2) If God does not exist, then there are no moral facts.
    (C) God exists. [the negation of proposition X]

    (P1) God does not exist.
    (P2) There are moral facts.
    (C) God does not exist but there are moral facts. [the negation of proposition Y]

    (P1) God does not exist.
    (P2) If God does not exist, then there are no moral facts.
    (C) There are no moral facts. [the negation of proposition Z]

    Now, the point is that X, Y and Z form an inconsistent triad. They can’t all be true. So (at least) one of them has to go. But which one?

    Reason tells you that one of them has to go. But it doesn’t tell you which one has to go. That’s my point.

    In fact, this particular contradiction is one I maintained for several years. Before some smartypants came along and suggested that rationally I ought to believe the conclusion(s) of my own argument(s). So I did. Seemed like a good idea at the time. 🙂

    1. The fact that moral facts exist has nothing to do with god. morals are based on the individuals belief in the rights of others. If you don’t believe others have rights that are equal to yours, then your treatment of others is likely to be detrimental to the other person in some way. This would be considered Immoral, by those of us that do have morals based on our belief that all people are equal, but not so to people who believe that they are somehow superior, or have a higher level of rights, than the people that they are abusing.
      In the world there are moral facts, such as the consideration that some things are bad, while others are good… this is also a personal belief system, as many people think Cannabis is bad for example, yet many believe it is not, that it is only a plant, that produces pleasurable effect on the human body….. morals are highly subjective, and belong to the individual alone. Your proposition that if God does not exist, there are no moral facts, is false.

  2. Not being a Logician but having experienced this sort of Dilemma I would like to introduce the concept of *Faith*.
    Many Times I have had to face heavy challenges to what the Bible says…. claims ‘so called’ new discoveries etc *contradict* my Christian Tenets, and in such Times rather than simply abandoning Christ, I have had to employ *faith* in the Bible… and have confidence that with the process of time I will discover the answer which will vindicate my refusal to be swayed by apparent ‘contradictions’ between Bible and the latest claims of ‘Science falsely so-called’…. Thus in this way I maintain the contradiction by faith.

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