All entries for Saturday 28 October 2006

October 28, 2006

Thinking about thinking about thinking

An article that appeared in the G2 a while back (which I happened to re-read recently) reminded me of Immanuel Kant’s discussion on the public and private uses of reason. The article is about an air hostess who ‘freaked out’ during a moment of turbulence on a flight to Las Vegas, but the interesting part of the article comes near then end – Lucy Mangan writes:

“Part of me hopes that Wendy (the air hostess) will spark a trend for entertaining breakdowns among other professionals. Surgeons who look up halfway through an operation and shriek, “Have you seen this? I’ve opened up a body! I’m up to my elbows in someone else’s guts! I’m plonking things that should be encased in skin into shiny metal basins! What the hell happened? I’m out of here!” Barristers who grind to a halt in the middle of their oratory and say, “I’m sorry, I appear to be wearing a wig and talking in Latinate circumlocutions. I do apologise and wish myself to bog off. I’m going skinny dipping with ma honey.”

Obviously, we don’t wish it to happen at all as the poor guy in the operating theatre would probably die (literally), but the fact is, as Kant argues, very few people use private reasoning as opposed to public reasoning anymore. The use of public reason, according to Kant, is when one is reasoning or thinking within a profession, so the doctor uses his reason and intelligence to work out what decisions he has to make with respect to a particular patient’s problem. The private use of reasoning is when the same man thinks about things completely outside of his profession, so for example, the doctor logically reasons through matters of philosophy, takes an interest in astronomy AND is able to form a complex political argument. Yes, I know people would complain that this is an unfair expectation since there is just not enough time to achieve it all, but that’s precisely the point…


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