Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Discourse on 'Rational' and 'Irrational'

(I found the original passage in the Aristotle's Physics (thanks John) that I had in mind, and it did not mention this distinction as between the rational and irrational, but I will pursue it as such, anyway, since I don't need Aristotle's permission.  For the relevant passage, see Physics Book θ, 251a30.  Also, Book θ is amazing generally.)

   Here is a distinction between rational and irrational:

The rational has many possible effects

The irrational has only one possible effect

   By this, we can say that heat is irrational because it can only bring about heat, but knowledge is rational because it can bring about many different things.
  A recent conversation about this distinction developed it and suggested a number of things that seem peculiar, but may shed some light as a discourse which can cut across the history of philosophy.  I have decided to develop the distinction from that conversation in the following way:

Something absolutely rational is not determinable by us, since it is that from which all possibility itself depends upon.

   Something absolutely irrational is something conceived such that it is entirely determined.  For something to be entirely determined requires that we cannot think of any other possibility for the thing that is either not already understood in it, or is contradictory to it.  (It is impossible - for us - to determine any particular so precisely.)
   I also add the notion of relatively rational, which is how we actually think objects in our finite way.  In this case we have outstanding possibilities which we can think concerning the things which we can think of as determined, but are unknown to us.
   As an additional note, I am thinking 'rational' and 'irrational' here as relating back to the Greek 'logos' (discourse), and not to 'nous' (mind).  This is very important, and I will spend the rest of this post detailing how it is important that 'discourse' is given a central role in this.  (I am understanding 'logos' with an etymological significance of 'gathering'.)
   Generally, I will think of discourse in terms of the manner in which we speak of things.  When we have more and more precise discourse, that is, more determined discourse, we find that it is less and less rational since the terms have more and more narrow uses the more we try to constrain them.  In human discourse, through language, we must necessarily think certain determinations through what we say, and so human discourse is already relatively irrational (in different degrees).
   Pure logical notation is very rational precisely because it minimally determines particulars, and for merely this reason.  A discourse which tries to speak about particulars, such as a first hand description or historical chronicle, are less rational, since they become more and more particular as to how the objects in the discourse are determined.  
   As a discourse becomes less rational, the possibility of contradictions multiply, and the more rational the discourse the fewer possible contradictions.
   When we think of 'God' we are thinking of something that is absolutely rational, and so something we cannot capture in discourse since all discourse must be determinate in at least some manner.  We are also thinking of an extreme which stands as an opposite to all contradiction, since with the absolutely rational no contradiction is possible.  It is interesting and needful to distinguish this kind of opposition to contradiction from what it means when we say other things can't contradict themselves, for example, when we say that what exists never contradicts itself.
   When we say that existence contains no contradictions, we do so while being able to think of alternate possible realities which do contradict what is.  However, with the absolutely rational, which we cannot actually think, we can at least negatively say that we could conceive of no other possibility since it is that which is compatible with the whole realm of  possibilities - even those which we cannot conceive of except for negatively.

Some Random Historical Comments:
   Plato's conception of forms as being the most perfect should not be understood in terms of the absolutely irrational, or totally determined, but in terms of the the absolutely rational or indeterminate.

   This discourse seems helpful for understanding Leibniz' insistence on the importance of possibles, and perhaps can provide some clarity for how he conceives of God as related to all of the possibles, since even for God there are more possibilities.  This is in contrast to Spinoza, where everything follows from Gods nature, and so there is only one possible way things can be, which means that there is no absolutely rational thing in the sense developed above in relation to God.

   Kant's understanding of noumena, or the problematic, would be that which is the most rational, but by being the most rational it is undeterminable by us while being exactly what our reason strives for.

   We can see man, as the rational animal, in terms of being the animal who has less specifically determined about him, and so this definition from Aristotle can be seen as very similar to Nietzsche's own, that we are the hitherto undetermined animal.

   For Hegel, the difference between being and nothing seems to be between the absolutely rational and irrational.
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