Précis of epistemology/The love of reason
Philosophy is the love of wisdom, or the love of reason.
The love of reason is desire, knowledge and act. A spirit is fulfilled by loving reason, through desire, knowledge, and action.
To know reason is to know the truth about reality and the ideal, the good. To act for the love of reason is to do the good.
What is the good? How do we do it? How do we recognize it?
The good is that the spirit lives for the spirit. A spirit lives well when he lives for all spirits to live well.
The spirit must be for the spirit. A spirit is fulfilled by thinking, speaking, and acting for all spirits to be fulfilled, so that we may freely develop the powers of the spirit and rejoice together.
More precisely, the good is that the spirit lives for the good. It is a circular definition of the good. We deduce from it that a spirit lives for the good when he lives for all spirits to live for the good. It is the circle of the perpetuation of the life of the spirit. To want the good is to want that the will of the good be perpetuated.
A remark on circular definitions. Principles such as "matter is what interacts with matter", "a natural number is either zero or the successor of a natural number" and "the good is that the spirit lives for the good" are not at fault. They determine the meaning of fundamental concepts. Formally we translate them by axioms. Informally, we can say that they are true by definition, or that they define the fundamental concepts. Circular definitions are forbidden only for derived concepts, defined from basic concepts. But they are not forbidden for fundamental concepts, because axioms can be considered as implicit definitions.
Dreams come true when they are adapted to reality, when they are within our reach, so that we can naturally find the means to achieve them. By motivating us, these dreams lead us to their realization, they reveal to us the means that enable us to accomplish them. If we had given up the dream, we would never have found the means.
The rationalist ideal resembles the dream of an enlightened: that all spirits find their happiness by living for the happiness of all spirits. But reasoning is enough to realize that it is also a dream adapted to reality, because reason gives us the means to accomplish reason.
That the spirit must be for the spirit has a very down-to-earth meaning: we must work to have good living conditions. If we do not make efforts, we necessarily live rather badly. If a spirit wants to enjoy life, he must give himself the means, he must work for himself and for others.
A spirit is fulfilled by being good for himself and for those around him. But he can also be good for all spirits. The fruits of reason are universal. The good principles are the same for everyone. When a spirit knows reason, he knows at the same time what is good for him and what is good for everyone else. By revealing reason, a spirit proves to himself, and to all others, that he can be good for all spirits, because we can all benefit from the fruits of reason.
We discover reason by becoming aware of proofs. Proofs reveal reason to all spirits. When spirits give themselves proofs, they make reason exist among them.
Observations and principles are the two sources of all proofs. As observers, we are witnesses of reality. All our good observations are proofs that the reality is as it is. As thinkers, we can learn all that good principles teach, by reasoning about their consequences.
All reasonings based on good principles and good observations are proofs that reveal reason.
We recognize the good principles by their fruits. Good principles bear fruit when they help us understand reality and do the good.
That we shall recognize the good principles by their fruits is a good principle, because it bears fruit every time it helps us recognize the good principles.
How do we recognize the fruits of reason? When it helps us to think well and live well.
A spirit is fulfilled when he thinks well, when he does the good, when he lives well. But we are easily deluded. We can very easily believe that we think or act well for very bad reasons. Reason does not always provide definite answers because the difference between real fruits and illusory fruits, between true well-being and fantasies, between good wheat and tares, is not always neat and clearly marked.
Observations reveal only crumbs of reality. We are only lifting a tiny corner of the veil, we are observing only a tiny part of reality, far too little to pretend we know it that way. Thought enables us to reason about each being and the totality of all beings. A being is known by knowing its relations with other beings, knowing its place in a totality. We know a totality knowing all the beings that it includes and their relations. By the thought one can know all the beings and the totalities that they constitute.
Through imagination and thought we can know all the possibilities, not only the reality as it is, but also as it could be and as it will never be. As observers, we only know a tiny part of reality. As thinkers, we can know everything, the real and the unreal. Reality is only a tiny part of the space of everything that can be thought of.
Thinking is rational when it adapts to reality, when it reveals what is really possible, naturally possible, what can really be.
Observations reveal beings only through what they are or have been. Thought enables us to go further because it reveals what they could be.
Knowing what is naturally possible, we find ways to act and fulfill our ideals, provided they are naturally within our reach.
By thinking we can know the truth about the good, about what we must do and must be, since it suffices to know that the spirit must live for the spirit.