... I wondered what you meant by "Considering rationalism as an
equally reprehensible dogma ..." and looked at your
explanation [= defining "rationalism" as the belief in a fixed and
universal criteria of scientificity, may it be inductivism or
falsificationism, and always dogmatically classifying any
phenomenon as explainable in materialistic ways...].
But this use of the word "rationalism" does not suit me.
I think that although it can be seen as mainly a problem of
terminology, this problem is deeply linked to core issues, that
might be seen as details but they are important too. It is very
important to put everything clear and position oneself correctly,
first to better approach the truth, then to avoid being wrongly
attacked. For if you want to oppose people who are in error, it is
essential not to be misled by their mistakes in a way that would
play their game, even if meanwhile you are less mistaken than
(*) the word "zetetic" was first introduced by Marcelo Truzzi,
founder of CSICOP which was initially a more open-minded
movement; but then this movement and thus the use of the word
"zetetic" deviated from Truzzi's original intents towards more
sectarian attitudes and materialistic dogmas, forcing Truzzi to
leave the movement and abandon the word "Zetetic" to the copyright
of SCICOP's new pseudo-scientific practices and interpretation. The
French skeptic movement followed this trend calling themselves
"zététique", and did not tolerate the use this word according
to Truzzi's original sense by the group criticizing them. I wrote a
quick review of the situation of the French skeptic movement
First, for the vocabulary problem: how to make sense of the
word "rationalism" and on what basis to motivate this choice of
definition? Your use seems based on sociological considerations,
namely: to accept that the meaning of a word is defined by
the majority or dominant use of the word in today's world (what is
done in its name, the practices of those who use it).
Problem: is the current use of the word authentic or abusive?
Does the usual practice of the word really fit with its original
meaning, the one meant, claimed ?
Is there another interesting possibility or even effective
practice already implemented, more consistent with what
the word was supposed to mean, than the way this word is often
officially used ?
Consider the battle over the use of the title of "blog zététique"
that took place(*) I don't want to give away the label
"rationalist" to the official skeptical movement, for the
following reasons: Claiming oneself rationalist, is definitely not
the same as being rational. There is a huge reality of
rational practice, which is science, and whose actual process
is usually very different, even opposite, from what I read from
you. But the best description of science is the developed
practice of reason in the form of scientific progress. So why
not define "rationalism" as the promotion and / or participation
in the progress of science and knowledge,
as already done and can go further? Would not this be a
quite different and more authentic meaning of this word,
than the usual practice of so-called "rationalist" activist
movements ? Furthermore, I explained in my site how important
aspects of the zetetic movement are similar to postmodernism, thus
opposite to the normal scientific rationality.
Otherwise, sorry if it sounds personal, but I can only classify
my worldview as rationalist, even if I do not put this name
forward. But it is quite different from the skeptics view, so I
must disagree with the skeptics'picture of rationalism, that
I see as caricatural.
[Also, the reference to philosophers (Popper as the "rationalist"
vs. Feyerabend as the "irrationalist") is irrelevant, as
philosophers are quite disconnected from the true understanding of
Back to site :
Thank you for your letter,
and references to your site I found very interesting.
First I must tell you that
you're the first one I see condemning the "zetetic"
approach while proclaiming rationalism (or so I
understand your position) . For me rationalism indeed
corresponds to extremism of the "zetetic" method that you condemn in the "skeptics" (what a
mixture of words, moreover misused in my opinion). For you it
just seems to be a good way to do science, that French "zetetician" are not doing. In
a word, I think we tend to agree, and condemn the same things,
but not with the same words.
Indeed, I think, perhaps
like you, that most of the French
"zeteticians" (except a few...) absolutely do not practice as
they claim "the art of doubt" because their own method
(what I call rationalism and you disagree) does not let
them doubt: by claiming to use universal arguments/protocols (whatever they
are, falsificationism, induction, the famous and so
subjective "Ockham's razor "...) able to ruthlessly sort, precisely with no doubt, theories, explanations between "good"
and "bad" and between "scientific" and "unscientific". It is
often said that there is "a" scientific method (without
ever specifying it, without ever really describing it), but I
notice that there are several. They have been several over
time, there will be others, because science is built, improved,
refined, corrects itself, is constantly evolving. And there are
also several at a given moment, because there is not really one
better than another. Some are more or less suited to the study /
discovery of a particular phenomenon. It's as you know what
Feyerabend defended, and it's hard not to join this quite... realistic vision, arguing that we
are far from the myth of science with its universally objective method as French "zeteticians" defend.
(I will use here one last
time the term in quotation marks, recalling
that zetetic (in the field of the paranormal) is the
creation of Marcello Truzzi, a true American skeptic, in the right sense of the term, who
really knew to doubt and abstain from deciding when missing an
argument one way or another. French
Zeteticians considerably usurp the term popularized by Truzzi
(in his Zetetician Scholar)
in the United States, and the American Rationalist (CSI,
formerly CSICOP for example) rather describe themselves as
"skeptics" (but do not doubt any further in their majority).
Zetetics "taught in ancient times" was a philosophical school
which advocated the permanent doubt, which French zeteticians
are far from.
I even think that in your
mention of a contradiction [skeptics'claim for democracy in
scientific judgement, in contradiction with their absolute
undebatable certainty and value judgement against the
paranormal], you miss another contradiction: claiming that the study of the paranormal
would aim to keep crowds in ignorance
and thus under control. Obviously, on the contrary, the
study of something aims to understand it, and by
disseminating this knowledge (whether or not a new phenomenon),
to free these crowds from mere beliefs, prejudices, etc.. They
simply do not understand "study" when they read it, but
"proselytizing" or "propaganda" for a given belief, without
valid scientific vehicle.
To come back to the term
"rationalism" that is the subject of your post, I did not invent
the interpretation. It is a term that has an adopted meaning
since some time now, and I do not see myself deciding to invent
another sense, as
corrupt today those of "zetetic" or even "skeptic" (I claim
myself skeptical in Truzzi's sense and feel far from their
thoughts). I recommend for example, if you have not already done
so, to read the excellent book by Alan F. Extension Chalmers: What is this Thing Called Science?
(Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend), Discovery, 1976. The idea
is indeed that of the existence of universal / timeless criteria for judging theories. One can
understand this ideal, or even say that the French zetetician
misapply it and that you (or others) could do it better
but you understood, for me it is not a matter of
practice or modalities, but a principle in which I do not
believe. Again Feyerabend provides many examples in Against Method. Indeed as
you say the idea of applying "reason" is not the prerogative of
rationalism / scientism, but of any scientific method and, if I
may speak bluntly, for me just a mat (cream pie) debate on
the application of good scientific method.
I'll stop there (...) But
I think for the moment that what makes you claim "rationalist"
must typically depend on your position
relative to the existence of test(s) of universal
judgement of a theory. It may be that you are (and apply it
better than French zeteticians for example) or
otherwise you are simply a good "skeptic" in the true
I see the "scientific method" as a style of spirit and research,
which must be developed into multiple forms to adapt to multiple
situations, and can not be reduced to a specific algorithm.
For me, the notion of "really best method" has no universal
meaning, but should not be dismissed either, but must be
understood as something vague, depending on the specificity of
each studied problem and provisional understanding, and must
therefore be reconsidered continuously from one situation to
In other words, the recognition of hyper-complexity and
multifaceted nature of the world, should not be mistaken for
relativism (a bland uniformity of values).
Well, again we are in substantial agreement with different words.
> what makes you claim
on your position relative to the existence of test(s) of
universal judgement of a theory
No. Reason for me is a multifaceted general discipline, but
nevertheless differs significantly from a certain practice of
non-reason or intellectual laziness, in fact widespread in some
areas ("spiritual" teachings in particular).
A bit like the distinction between human thought and animal
thought, that does not need a clean break in the evolutionary
history to be something real.
The fact that there is no clean and precise wall (recognizable by
an idiot) separating what is rational from what is not, is not
inconsistent with the clear superiority of the practice of reason
(intelligence) over non-reason (stupidity). See also the beginning
of the introductory text ("Rationality and Realism, What is at
Stake ? by John R. Searle) on the issue of
discernibility between what is rational and what is not.
I hope I was clearer this time ...
I think the
misunderstanding is on the idea that "rationalism" is a general
term for simply strive for reason, what is rational or not. It
is not. What I am saying is that it is a well-defined school of
philosophy of science, and therefore we can not use it for
something else. If you want to define your approach as a search
of the rational, and if you want to avoid confusion with this
school, you should use another term.
I still see no reason to let to some specific school of philosophy
of science (which I did not care to study), the copyright on the
use of the word "rationalism", and the right to fix there a
pathological meaning, especially as it does not seem at all
to stick with the use of that word in that text by John R. Searle.
Now with the Wikipedia articles: the French one indeed seems to go
in your way, or perhaps even a third meaning.
However, the introductory paragraph of the English article on
fits with the interpretation I said.
I don't forget our
discussion. Maybe we are finally talking about the same thing
but highlighting different aspects: while you insist on the
virtuous use of "reason" as the only way to get to the truth, I
insist on the fact that this doctrine can be both fuzzy
(most people, whatever their theories about mysterious phenomena
will agree with it) and very restrictive (the English Wikipedia
cites, for example a definition by Bourke advocating deductive
reasoning (which, strictly applied, is very unfortunate and even
inapplicable, because the deduction requires the prior
development of theories, usually based on observations -
induction - etc. Of course deduction can be replaced by
any other methods or tools of reasoning called
"universal" but each have their flaws). And that is a
characteristic of rationalism that I do not defend: the idea of
a method / a universal tool to compare theories. This is also
the paradox of rationalism to advocate a universal method of
reasoning without describing which one it is (or only a very
blurred one such as the application of " reason" so we can not,
as you do during your battles with "skeptics", say who is
more rational if not by an arbitrary opinion - a good way
to maintain eternal discussions). For this, rationalism
is to me rather a doctrine (there is a universal reasoning
always valid, but I can not say which one) than a specific
method (practice / technique).
Have you read my texts ? (...).
I feel not.
I would describe reason as admittedly somehow fuzzy, but
Namely, for me, because: reason = intelligence.
If you are only looking for simplistic definitions of reason, of
course you will only find simplistic definitions.
It is absurd to require stupid definitions of intelligence.
For the reason is the same.
Of course, a Wikipedia article is simplifying by encyclopedic
For me, reason is not something to be defined, but something to be
From the Wikipedia article I only pointed out the introduction,
with which I agree: the primacy of reason over any other approach.
I did not see there the idea that rationalism would be the
belief that reason would be reducible to a simplistic definition
by the automated application of a tiny single method, I know
not where you take that from, and I do not expect many people to
interpet it so either. Of course there may be some small
definition proposals in the air, to describe one aspect or
another, but I do not see these as banners of simplicism that
would claim to completely formalize and end what reason is.
To be honest, this is for me the first time I find someone who
makes such an amalgam between rationalism and simplicism. I've
never seen it elsewhere.
Even zeteticians, who develop a simplistic and degenerate version
of reason, do not conceive reason as simplistic. For them
too, reason is to deploy their thinking as far as they can. The
only problem is that this deployment of reason which they carry
out as much as they can according to the extent of their
abilities, is limited by the narrow size their own brain.
Please do not blame rationalism for the narrow brain of its
loudest defenders. This is just unrelated.
OK, a definition, if one is necessary:
Rationalism = claim that scientific-like research (involving
intelligence, with all its rich subtleties such as deployed in
many sciences, not excluding other subtleties yet to be added to
fit with more issues) is generally more likely to lead to the
right discernment of the truth on most truth issues, than
traditional religious ways like praying, singing, faith in
Jesus or in Islam, nirvana or other "spiritual" meditation
practices, the obsession of humility, or this or other feelings,
reading the Bible or any other traditional sacred text, or
the popular simplistic, fuzzy, immature sort of thought.
This is my definition of rationalism, which, as far as I know,
does not seem any way at odds with its most common
Need I remind you that this position of rationalism, is far
from obvious for many people.
Indeed right now in the world, it seems most people are
opposed to rationalism as I just defined. They firmly believe
that the only way to truth is faith in Jesus and baptism of
the Holy Spirit, or the Buddhist meditation, or the like. So if
you do not agree with them that religious practices lead more
surely to the truth than scientific research, then you're part of
the small minority of rationalists on this earth, whether you like
it or not.
I have not read your texts
more than last time, sorry.
It seems to me that there
are misunderstandings of my position in what you say in your
When I say fuzzy, I mean it
is not at all accurate, it is too general (and thus a doctrine
rather than a method). You can tell at length what is the
application of science rather than non-science, but you still do
not specify the idea. For me your definition boils down to "the
application of reason is better" without saying why, how, etc.
cannot really define what means "scientific" apart through its
results ("you see, it works better than the rest" - but why? And
is this always true?). Because the border between science and
non-science is not always obvious, and it is better defined by
its methods (absent from a definition of reason) than by a
general idea. This is not the application
of the use of reason (say, doing science) that I find
simplistic, but its definition (non-existent or vague / general
/ subjective). That is why, even if I consider like you,
scientific explanations as more convincing than mystical explanations of the world, I
do not claim any rationalism. For me what is important is to
things, in the
sense of verifiable by everyone (so, the opposite of
subjectivity), whether it be in a box "science" or not.
So I agree with the idea
that rationalism mainly includes the idea of "every reason is
good," but it does not bring much in itself (i.e. it is vague),
and the real content that follows is a sort of "soft
dictatorship" that imposes a /several universal method(s) *
(which non-science would not have) without really
defining them (no method specified). What is all this vagueness
for ? I think, for rejecting what a priori
scares rationalists (the mystical, etc..), so as to
maintain this "great divide" between science and non-science
(formerly non-science = popular culture, but it is reducing
now), between "serious" people and others. Rationalists
want to mark their
* Where do I take this
from ? I've already said, the book is a source of Chalmers,
"What is science?".
(Not reading, deprives the discussion of chances to progress).
I remember the comparison:
It is impossible to define humans versus animals,
but can one deny the ability of man to know the
world better than animals ?
It would be wrong to require a stupid definition of intelligence,
and to conclude that intelligence does not exist by lack of a
stupid satisfying definition.
So, reason is fundamentally different from non-reason, insofar as
the adjective "fundamental" is understood to mean something
practical and contextual, that has NOTHING TO DO with that of
"essential" = separate by profound nature, binary or things like
See more I wrote on essentialism
On the next remarks: I'm not sure what to answer specifically, or
how it could change my previous statements, except to specify the
following very important point:
In reply to:
"Because ultimately you cannot really define what
means "scientific" apart through its results ("you see, it works
better than the rest" - but why? And is this always true?).
Because the border between science and non-science is not always
Sorry but I must contradict you there:
Indeed, what brings me to discuss science, is indeed
that I am basically much involved in math and theoretical
physics, and theoretical reflections on various topics from
childhood, and I thus reached important achievements in these
areas. One of my experiences, was my fervent evangelical faith
that lasted a number of years, followed by a complete
deconversion, after which I have done a tremendous work of
restoring order to my understanding of this whole religious
All this gives me some very extensive and intimate knowledge
of science and reason.
So for me, talking about reason is the opposite of something
vague, but it's a gigantic universe that I know well, and it is
only as an intimate knower of this universe, that I dare to talk
I do not doubt that you
have an opinion on what is reasonable or meaningful
("scientific" say some, while there are a lot of scientific results or even methods that
are wrong) and what is not (or worse, if we take the reference
of your evangelical experience). I do not doubt that this
opinion is based on considerable experience in these areas, and
you speak knowingly.
unfortunately), it brings nothing as long as it cannot be shared
(hence the importance of publishing works in science, for
example). Saying "I know very well to discern good from bad",
the rational from the irrational or the unscientific from the
scientific, is good for you, but it is incommunicable to others
as such. There is no other scientific knowledge than a shared
knowledge. To make it communicable requires to communicate
something repeatable by others (typically via a description of a
method to reproduce the knowledge you claim to have discovered).
And this communicable, shareable description, still lacks in your speech that remains
paradoxically subjective on science (from what I've read so far
in our discussion).
Understand me well, I do
not blame you for not providing such a universal description of
what science is, or what method should be applied systematically
to arrive at scientific truth, because I think it is not
possible. To say that it is possible, is rationalism.
Let's go further:
Indeed I can not verbally communicate intelligence itself, the
source of insights that I developed.
Nevertheless, there are still very significant things I can
produce and communicate verbally, especially some actual
understanding of a number of specific topics. So I can communicate
something of my reason in the form of examples, a lot of
discussions and explanations on specific things.
And more specifically, on issues among the most important I could
Texts I wrote on the foundations of mathematics, on religion, on a
number of myths that dominate the world, economy, etc..
And I think that, even though it will ever be the magic potion to
discern for sure what is most rational from what is at fault
among all movements and all teachings of the present or future
world, at least it can make significant progress.
For even if reason itself is not transmissible, a good overview of
a number of rational thoughts that can give some knowledge and
serve as examples while refuting a number of currently widespread
mistakes, pitfalls and obstacles to reason, can help inspire
people in the right direction.
My own progress in the exercise of reason, came by practicing it
and seeing what helps to go further and what does not, so that a
success can inspire further success...
Thus, examples of well-conducted reflections can inspire others to
To come back to the initial subject:
Yes, reason exists, it is a very real thing, even if,
precisely the same way as many other subtle realities studied by
science (dark matter, etc. etc.), it can be very difficult to
capture or characterize.
And it's not because something is difficult to discern or
understand, that it does not exist.
To try to re-explain things:
For me (and I think, for many others too), reason makes sense
only insofar as it is actually useful to advance the understanding
of reality. Therefore, what for should one claim to define and
communicate reason in a pure form ? Indeed, reason truly
becomes reason, only by its effective work on reality. It would
not make sense to transmit reason separately from what it can be
here for. The problem of skeptics, who uses the paranormal as
an example, is that, while admittedly, somehow it would be good to
present reason as applied to something, it is also necessary to do
truly and sincerely, appropriately to the reality of the object at
stakes. Because the real goal should be the object, reality, and
not reason for itself. For, a reason that would be reduced to
itself or seeked for its own purpose, disconnected from the
reality that it is here to discover, even if some bits of
reality would be used as an exercise, would simply not be
reason anymore. (This remark does not diminish the rationality of
pure mathematics, which is an effective knowledge of the existing
world of mathematics, even if different from the usual world,
rather than an empty methodology).
To use anything as an excuse or support to communicate reason, is
already a diversion from reason. The real reason can exist and be
transmitted only by being taken neither as an object in itself,
nor even a priority, but by treating it fully and honestly as it
should always have remained: a discipline subordinated to the
study to its true goal which is knowledge of reality.
I therefore believe that the true rationalism must renounce trying
to define reason as a definable object, in favor of its
development as a reality, as a kind of sport that exists only
through its practice.
So my main approach is to develop my own exercise of reason, and
work to make it succeed in something. It would be absurd to try
out a characterization of reason without having prior
"evidence", experience of how this can effectively help
the progress of knowledge. Finally, this "reason" by which I
could finally discover reality, turns out to be
neither simpler, more fundamental or transmissible
than its fruits (knowledge). Thus it is just natural to me,
in my rationalism (= desire of contributing to the development of
rational understanding in the world) to attach as much importance
and care to first exercise reason in myself and then share
the fruit obtained, than models of reasoning that led me there.
Is this clearer?
Some further ideas that came to me afterwards:
One could say that the method is to science what means of
transport are to travel.
Means of transport are required to travel, but they are not the
Putting forward some scientific methods, may be useful to people
who might currently have no method to progress but say still
and only dream of traveling rather than really travel in the world
of knowledge; who dream of knowledge but have none true and
reliable. Or maybe, who develop some partial knowledge, but mixed
with errors, and remain unable to sort them. Unfortunately, this
is precisely a very common situation across currently
widespread religions and spiritualities.
But the presence of some possible means of transport, does not
exclude other useful ones. Some are genuine, others illusory.
How do we know? Well that's a big problem, the answer is not
always given in advance ... however, the point is that, fantasy
and actual travel are two separate things, and the abundance of
people who seriously imagine themselves on the moon while
they are only there in dream, is a major problem. And the presence
of a serious problem, does not mean that the mistaken ones would
necessarily be "at fault" in any sense whatsoever, nor that any
readily available solution must always be here under hand - but
some possibilities of a few significant steps forward
do exist, and need to be used.
Also, normally the high-level rational discussions are
debates in which many specific questions can be addressed, but
where the qualifiers of "rational" and other variations of this
word, has no place because it lacks the necessary meaningfulness
for the issues involved (it would sound like the battles of
insults among children, away from the real debate). But there are
also hopeless cases, where one debater is unable of
reason; this lack of rationality turns out to be a major
obstacle to any attempt at dialogue, letting no other option for
the other, but to express this observation of failure in
terms of irrationality ... while the other may have a similar
impression in the other way round. Who is really right? Well, hard
Also, I do not see the issue of rationality as a matter of
"criterion for comparing theories". Reason is a dynamic for
the constitution and development of any theory.
Some theories are rationally developed, others less. There is
no on the one hand, theories enjoying an independent reality in
the world of ideas, then on the other hand, a rationality
criterion falling from the sky that would give them good or bad
marks. Reason was there in the first place to build theories
presented, then it can come back and rework them, review them and
modify the old ideas into new, clarified ideas (that may or may
not be rigorously equivalent to the former version).