Belief, Hypocrisy and Reason was the theme for our Global festival in September 2020. In the current issue of IAI News we are developing the theme and identifying the most persistent hypocrisies of the current time and asking whether belief and reason can rescue us from the chaos.
Reason has been at the centre of Western thought for centuries; relying on evidence and logic and striving for objectivity. But, in our post-truth age, we collect beliefs on a whim or as part of a tribe. Many are happy to hold contradictory views to suit temporary desires.
Is this a dangerous approach which threatens the coherence of our views and the stability of society as whole? Can we reassert reason to build a better society? Or is the enlightenment at an end, and, with it, a privileged class who defined logic to suit its world-view?
Think of some Western leaders in early 2020, greeting patients and calling on the exceptional character of their nations to defeat Covid-19. This was not exceptionalism, argues Lisa Bortolotti, but simple hypocrisy.
Without reason we can take the moral high ground while acting in immoral ways argues Kishore Mahbubani. Western morality is an industry, he maintains, rolled out in political pledges, university papers and think tank studies, while the USA’s use of torture persists, undermining it all. Reason force us to see realities we would rather ignore: Most Indians happily believe that caste has disappeared but Ashwini Deshpande uncovers a neo-caste system, subsisting in the data.
Perhaps we have good reason to distrust reason. Spencer Critchley argues that hyper-rationalism has led to the worst foreign policy disasters of the 20th century: from computer-generated strategy in Vietnam to theories of democracy in Iraq. Over-reliance on reason can hold us back when we need to act: Bernadka Dubicka asks, how much gold-standard evidence do we need before we start protecting children from harmful technology? Worse, can appeals to reason conceal ulterior motives? On examining the evidence in in evidenced-based medicine, Leemon McHenry finds instead a marketing pitch designed for profits.
Against such a backdrop, how do we move forward? Do we need a stronger and new form of objectivity which extends to all humans, as Susan Levin imagines? Like Kastrup, can we apply evidence and rationality to our fundamental philosophical beliefs? Or, as Vickers responds, does this project make no sense? We cannot simply re-do the enlightenment, we have learnt too much to go backwards.
The relationship between belief, hypocrisy and reason is a challenge to all disciplines but, most obviously, to philosophy itself.