How Reason Can Survive The Modern University: The Moral Foundations Of Rationality
Dallas Willard - For the American Maritain Association meeting at Notre Dame, Oct 19th to 22, 2000.
When I speak of reason surviving the modern university, I refer to reason as a living, social practice. Reason as a
human faculty or as a mental function, and all that essentially pertains to it, is perhaps in no danger. It is we, it is
the university and education generally, that are in danger because of the loss of the practice
By "reason" I refer to the capacity to apprehend truth itself, as truth is displayed in any true thought, judgment or
statement. That capacity involves, among other things, the capacity to grasp logical relations and thereby appreciate
evidence for truth. The primary function of reason is to see truth as a property of judgment or representation and to
see the simpler laws of truth that govern truth-values as necessarily distributed over judgments that are logically
related to one another by such relations as strict implication and logical contradiction. The ideal of the intellectual,
artistic and academic life as the pursuit of truth, or of just being thoroughly logical, is far beyond being in "deep
trouble" in the university today, and in many places is approximating the status of a "lost cause."
Of course truth is inseparable from the being (reality, existence) of that which the true judgment is about. So reason
is intimately linked to the comprehension of being
, of how things are
. It is a capacity for insight into reality or what
is. Maritain says in one place, "If I.
..am a Thomist, it is in the last analysis because I have understood that the
intellect sees, and that it is cut out to conquer being. In its most perfect function, which is not to manufacture ideas,
but to judge, the intellect seizes upon existence exercised by things. And at the same time it forms the first of its
concepts--the concept of being, which metaphysics will bring out, in its own light, at the highest degree of
Reason is therefore indispensable to knowledge, which, it was thought in other times, the university and the
intellectual life was primarily about. No longer. We now have research
universities, but not knowledge
Our goal is 'information' and its use, or possibly only novelty. What this all means is well laid out in Lyotard's
book, Knowledge: The Postmodern Condition
. As a description of the actual processes of university life in
general, and the professionalized life that goes on around and within it, this book is not a totally misguided
representation of the facts of academic life and of what is regarded and rewarded as "good work."
The book shows how little is said about truth today in our "research" centers, and perhaps less still about logic as
anything other than rules to be built into a computer to manipulate symbols of 'information'. Sometimes "logic" is
now used to characterize actual processes of thought which some individual or group tends to carry out. But logic