Tuesday, May 04, 2010

What is Reason?

Reflections upon a Socratic Weekend

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T. S. Eliot

I spent the past weekend, from Thursday evening through Sunday morning, exploring the question: "What is Reason?" with sixteen other individuals who came together under the auspices of the Reason Individualism Freedom Institute to engage in a Socratic dialogue regarding this and related questions. I came away from this weekend, not with answers to the question, but with a better understanding of how to explore this and related questions of fundamental importance for anyone interested in pursuing wisdom.

We came together on Thursday evening, each from different places, backgrounds and ways of life, but each also with common goals and an beneficent spirit of cooperation centered on an agreement that reason was a concept worth exploring. There were several opportunities to do just that as we attempted with increasing success, led by Marsha Enright, the founder of the RIF Institute and Andrew Humphries, to follow the principles of Socratic dialogue in examining texts from Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Ayn Rand, Jefferson and others. The spirit of friendly cooperation in pursuit of understanding each of these texts drove us forward and we shared our observations on the success of each attempt before moving on. Between the discussions we expanded our minds with consideration of the great architecture of Chicago and the interpretation and observation of important works of art in the Art Institute. We also enjoyed a presentation by Jonathan Hoenig on the heroism of capitalists in their pursuit of financial success based on the practical application of reason, and a talk by one successful and talented neurosurgeon, Joel Franck, M.D., about his experiences and views of the ethical and business aspects of practicing medicine in America today.

The combination of all of these experiences and the camaraderie that developed from our interaction with one another made this a rewarding weekend with benefits that will continue to accrue as each of the participants reflect and act upon the knowledge gained through their participation in the seminar. I for one found that in pursuing the question, "What is Reason?", I found a better way of knowing how to use reason both to pursue further questions and live my life. That is an invaluable lesson.

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