REASON-SKEPTICAL POSITIONS, PART I:
A question which is occupying my mind right now is: what happens when someone gives up the game of rationality — the practice of reason-giving —, and falls back into prereflective standpoints of ordinary life?
[A] One way in which this could happen is for a person to give reasons for not giving reasons, but this will ultimately fail for the practice of not giving reasons will have a rationale behind it. However, the person might say that they are not abstaining from giving reasons for a reason, they are just doing it, and their exercise in reasoning was to show the reasonophiles that their own agenda leads them down the path of non-reason giving.
[B] Another, similar way is for someone to give reasons to undermine the very possibility of giving reasons. That is what the most radical of skeptics do. Pyrrhonic skeptics, if I have understood them correctly, argued that argument cannot settle anything. I suppose that arguing that that is unsettled will also play into the hands of the skeptic: if it’s the second-order question whether anything can be settled is itself unsettled, then no first-order question has been settled. This is because the settlement of any first-order question directly implies the settlement of that second-order question. So the very unsettledness of that second-order question settles it.
What happens, on the other hand, if one claims to have settled that second-order question regarding whether first-order questions (or any question) can be settled? If the second-order question is: “no questions can be settled”, then the settledness of that claim would undermine its own truth or falsity, making it unsettled. So the skeptic must try to settle the question: “no first-order questions can be settled”, which can be settled without engaging in any contradiction or paradox. Note that this second-order question presupposes that the following, also second-order question, is settled: “there is a distinction between first-order and second-order questions” — but this seems like a merely conceptual question, not very difficult to settle. I mean, it’s just a distinction.
The kind of skeptic that believes that the second-order question “no first-order questions can be settled” has been settled is, then, giving a reason for not giving reasons regarding first-order questions. Interesting.
(I want to note that this is not the position of the Pyrrhonic skeptic, from I have gathered from two lectures on them. Their position does involve positive beliefs, and it’s something like: “In my personal experience, it has hitherto seemed to me that no philosophical questions has been, as yet, settled.” It seems they then provide some reason for following pretheoretical beliefs and social customs, and I suppose it would be something like: “In my personal experience, it has hitherto seemed to me that following pretheoretical beliefs and social customs will provide me the most benefit.” Do they ever give reasons for following appearances that are not circular?: “In my personal experience, it has hitherto seemed to me that was has hitherto seemed to me to be the case should be my default position in practical action.” Perhaps the reason they can give takes the form of a challenge: try to ground anything on something other than reasons or appearances. Perhaps one could meet the challenge by saying: “appearances don’t appear to ground anything, so there appears to be no ground — good luck with that!”.)
(i) More and more it seems to me that one cannot keep giving reasons forever — not even reasons for believing there to be self-evident truths or for trusting our capability of discerning self-evident truths.
(ii) I follow Huemer in thinking we should follow our most immovable appearances. This includes appearances self-evidency.
(iii) However, the appearance that we are great discerners of self-evident truths has been overthrown by the appearance (due to the appearance of there having been many philosophers with conflicting insights on self-evident truths) that our claims of self-evidency are very untrustworthy indeed.
(iv) Could such an appearance (of there having been many philosophers with conflicting insights on self-evident truths) be more trustworthy than any of our personal appearances of self-evidency, especially the disjunction of all of them? Perhaps this saves the philosopher’s penchant for self-evident truths. (Or, in a funny twist of language or something: apparently self-evident truths.) I’d have to evaluate what is more “self-evident” in this case: the disjunction of “it is very self-evident that p” for all p that actually seem very self-evident to me, versus the conjunction of the self-evident claims that end up in “we should be generally distrustful of our claims to self-evidency, even if we must take them as starting points; just take them with a grain of salt.” I think the latter would be more appropriate.
REASON-SKEPTICAL POSITIONS, PART II:
[C] A third, and perhaps final, possibility, is not for a person to claim there are reasons for not following reasons, or that there are reasons for not thinking it is possible to give reasons, but that there is no reason to give reasons. However, that’s a substantial position, and surely something who asserts this will need to have a reason to assert it, which pretty much undermines it.
But isn’t this begging the question? Why should one give reasons for asserting something? We can only see reasons for there being a need for (or expediency in) giving reasons once we are in the game of reason-giving, of rationality. Can’t we step outside this game? Only reasons could tell us we can’t or shouldn’t, and that’s circular: reason giving itself a pat in the back by saying one cannot step outside reason while preserving meaning (or something), or that one should not do it. (Think about this too: only reasons could assure us giving circular reasons is bad. But that’s not relevant to our point. If you accepted reason because reason tells you to, you’d also need to accept that that’s not a good reason for accepting reason. Could there be a reason for accepting reason?)
I think romantics (whose ideas I am admittedly very badly acquainted with) and other reason-skeptics are failing to conceive what’s involved in stepping outside the game of reasons. There’s nothing “out there” (or so there seems to be reason to believe?). Could someone construct something outside reason, a sort of parallel system, like parallel States in slums and favelas? Could such a parallel system be reasonable? No, by definition, but only reason could tell us reasonableness is good. Could there be a system of justifications outside reason? I think justifications are conceptually entangled with reason-giving (unless someone wants to come and give reasons for externalism about justification). But then again, only reason could tell us justifications are needed.
So, if you ain’t got reasons, truth, justification, entailments, or reasonableness, what have you got? What exists outside reason is anarchy. It’s not even licensed anarchy, as in position [A] and [B], where reasons for throwing out reason-giving out are given (a weird thing, to be sure!). It’s just pure anarchy.
I mean, consider a dialogue with a pure reason-skeptic, mr. B.
A: Why do you criticize the stoning of women in the Middle East?
B: I do not like it.
A: Why do you think other people should do what you like?
B: I just think it.
A: What if you’re wrong?
B: I don’t think people can be wrong.
A: And can be people be right?
A: Do you think you’re right about that?
A: Do you think you’re right about not being right about that?
A: Okay then…
It seems that outside of reason there is just un-negotiable rock-bottom. Such a super-skeptic would simply have beliefs, be they coherent or not, justified or not, and it would just do stuff, without any reason or rationale whatsoever. Perhaps it performs in its mind some process of reasoning, but it’d be just like performing a meaningless, effectiveless ritual. It’s just does some thinking, not that any reason is being given for the result of the thinking.
Note: what if one of my pre-theoretic, pre-reflective beliefs is that one must give reasons for this stuff, or at least that it’s possible to give reasons?
(Could one even speak with such a reason-skeptic? There would be no beliefs (for believing something is believing it to be true — or so reason tells me), no coherence (unless accidental, perhaps), in fact, no meaning. I can’t see anything with meaning outside the game of reason-giving. When you throw out concepts such as justification and truth, nothing’s left. One becomes a dog.)