Sam Radford

August 8, 2023

Reason is not enough

I came across this wonderful, provocative quote a week or so ago by Dostoevsky, in his book, Notes from Underground:

Reason is an excellent thing, there's no disputing that, but reason is nothing but reason and satisfies only the rational side of man's nature, while will is a manifestation of the whole life, that is, of the whole human life including reason and all the impulses. And although our life, in this manifestation of it, is often worthless, yet it is life and not simply extracting square roots. Here I, for instance, quite naturally want to live, in order to satisfy all my capacities for life, and not simply my capacity for reasoning, that is, not simply one twentieth of my capacity for life. What does reason know? Reason only knows what it has succeeded in learning.

There’s so much to ponder from that:

  • Reason only satisfies the rational side of our nature
  • Will is a manifestation of our whole lives
  • There’s more to life than our capacity to reason
  • Reason is simply one twentieth of our capacity for life
  • Reason only knows what it has learned

To be clear, I am pro-reason and reasoning!

This is not about being anti-reason or anti-rational. Far from it. It’s a reminder that reason alone is not enough.
We need to move beyond reason. Not in the sense of leaving it behind, but rather in the sense that reason is only one tool in our toolkit when seeking wisdom and knowledge and living life to the full. We need it, but we don't just need it.

There are other ways of knowing that we need to learn to tap into and value.

We can come into knowledge though our will. Our choices, commitments, and decisions teach us deeply. The process of making a vow and keeping it can be transformative. There is nothing instant to this knowing; this knowledge emerges over time, through the process of struggling with the choices.

Our emotions are great teachers too. There are lessons to be learned from love and hate, jealousy and fear, despair and anguish, anger and rage. Through these we are offered a glimpse into our deepest self. There is a knowledge here to be found that will open us up to higher levels of growth and being.

Then there is our senses. Our body will teach us if we will take the time to listen.As Richard Rohr has said, ‘Becoming aware of our senses in a centered way allows us to awaken, to listen, to connect. It allows us to know reality more deeply, on our body’s terms instead of our brain’s terms.’ Sometimes the way to get out of our heads is to tap into our bodies.

We learn through images and stories too. And, as with our senses, sometimes it can take a moving story or a powerful image to break through our rational mind. They have a way of opening our eyes to those things we know but didn’t realise we know. They can surface the truths deep within. Images and stories can can unlock a new awareness.

There are plenty of other ways in which we can come into knowledge and wisdom too. These items I raise here are just a start. If nothing else, I hope they serve as a reminder that, despite what culture can seem to tell us, reason is not the only way to know. And, in truth, by itself it is not enough.

Thanks for reading, 

About Sam Radford

Husband, father, lover of books, writer, tech geek, sports fan, and pragmatic idealist from Sheffield, England.