1. The Economist; 3/16/96; “Crimes of Reason”; p.p. 85-87.
2. Daniel Roche; “France in the Enlightenment”; Harvard University Press, Cambridge; 1998; p. 347.
Rene Déscartes was a 17th century French philosopher. After observing how people with the same gift of reason arrived at different conclusions due to the different paths taken, he sought to establish the knowledge of truth on a secure foundation. In Discourse of the Method (1637), he set down four practical rules: 1) Accept those things for which I have evident knowledge of the truth. 2) Divide each of the difficulties I examined into as many parts as possible. 3) Direct my thoughts in an orderly manner by starting with the simplest and most easily known objects in order to move up gradually to knowledge of the most complex. 4) Make all my enumerations so complete, and my reviews so comprehensive, that I could be sure that I hadn’t overlooked anything.
A 4/17 Scientific American article notes that there are truths by observation (the 84 pages of that magazine), truths by convergence of the evidence and the negative truths of experimental sciences. As globalization proves and technology demonstrates, there is such a thing as broad truth. Political systems in the developed world are struggling to cope with a globalization, that needs to be placed more in service of the community.
The principles that underlie the U.S. system of government are found in the Declaration of Independence of 1776. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
3. Edmund Burke; “Reflections on the Revolution in France”; Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis; 1987; p. 54.Here i
4. CNBC; 5/6/14; “Meet the ‘4%’: Small number of farms dominates US””
5. Jeffrey Sachs; “Building the New American Economy”; Columbia University Press, New York; p.p 62-63.
6. NYT; 3/13/17; “Health Bill Would Add 24MM Uninsured but Save $337 Billion (over 9 years), Report Says”
7. Donald Kagan; “On the Origins of War”; Anchor Books, New York; 1996 ed.; p.567.
8. Madison, Hamilton and Jay; “The Federalist Papers, No. 49”; Bantam Dell, New York; 2003 ed.; p. 310.
9. Al Gore; “The Assault on Reason”; Penguin Books, New York; 2008; p. 58.
This book is notable also because it discusses the political effects caused by a departure from reason. The main emotion that causes people to lose their heads is fear:
“Fear is the most powerful enemy of reason. Both fear and reason are essential to human survival, but the relationship between them is unbalanced. Reason may sometimes dissipate fear, but fear frequently shuts down reason….Nations succeed fail and define their essential character by the way they challenge the unknown and cope with fear. And much depends on the quality of their leadership. If leaders exploit public fear to herd people in directions they might not otherwise choose, fear itself can quickly become a self-perpetuating and freewheeling force that drains national will and weakens national character, diverting attention from real threats …and sowing confusion about the essential choices that every nation must constantly make about its future.
Leadership means inspiring us to manage through our fears. Demagoguery means exploiting our fears for political gain. There is a crucial difference.” p. 24.
The mass atrocities committed by Nazis in the 1930s, the Khymer Rouge in the 1970s and by Mideast extremists in the 21st century are explainable by this simple emotion. By its reliance on reason for decisionmaking, rather than fear, liberal democracy is one of the least paranoid societies.
10. Exercising reason in a complex world is more complicated than a simple-minded following of orders. As Mill writes:
“He who chooses his plan for himself, employs all his faculties, He must use observation to see, reasoning and judgement to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decisions.”
John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”; Bantam Classic, New York; 1993 ed.; p. 68.