The value of reason

By: Bayynat editor

Reason is the best vehicle through which man worships God and owing to its effect on man’s personality and relationships, we can say that the question of reason is not one of theory and thought alone, or questions of what is possible or impossible and the like, but one that relates to the practical side in life, shapes man’s entity in a way that makes hima dynamic element in his relationship to God, himself and others. Reason emphasizes the secret of truth and shapes man’s approach in life.

In this chapter, we study the consequences of using one’s mental powers, of thinking, evaluating, understanding and reasoning, as they represent essential elements of the safest approach people can adopt in going about their daily life, relationships, problems and the rest.

In doing so, they discover the value of these powers that God has blessed them with, in contrast to other living things.

Senses versus reason

Imam Ali (a.s.) says: “Seeing is not like insight, for one’s eyes may fool you, but the mind never cheats whoever turns to it for advice.” These words emphasize that one must rely on reason and thinking and seek advice from it, and not blindly follow the senses because the senses may be wrong as, through some external effects that make one judge things in a way that is not as they really are. Sight does not tell on its own what the person is seeing: it is like the camera that needs information and awareness in order that what it sees is understood. This is why when a person is struck with brain paralysis, he opens his eyes and sees things, but cannot tell what they are. This applies to the senses other than sight.

Reason and reasonable judgment, however, let us know things as they really are regardless whether this is achieved through basic recognition of axiomatic knowledge, or through close thinking and analysis.

The difference between the two is highlighted in the Quranic verse: “For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts, which are within the chests, that grow blind.” (22:46)

This describes those in whom seeing and blindness are the same, since even if they recognize what they see, they remain in the dark, since they lack insight, therefore, “seeing” of the mind and of the heart. This is why it is said that true seeing that enriches man, develops his thoughts and expresses reality is mental insight, not physical eyesight.

As mentioned in Peak of Eloquence, by Imam Ali (a.s.): “Definite things are reasoned things, not sensed things.” This means that what gives one clarity, so that there is no doubt, is definite, while the senses-hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch can be wrong, in that the senses can be wrong in expressing what they perceive, giving us beliefs, and when we formulate our beliefs on the basis of what we have senses, our beliefs can be wrong, and will be wrong if the senses are wrong. If the mind has a reasoning power, it would proceed from fundamental facts that no one denies, and consequently no error would result from it.

On the basis, one has to proceed from the instinctive mind that relates things through fundamental facts about which there is no doubt whatsoever, because what stirs argument are theoretical things, not fundamental facts. This is why scholars say: “There is no basis for correct judgment if the theory does not end in fundamental facts.” Therefore we must study any given theory: if we arrive at axiomatic concepts, then it is correct, but if we cannot, then it remains disputable.

Edited excerpts from “Contemplation on reason in Islam” by the late Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah