Reason. This word, like the Latin ratio, from which it is
derived, runs through a great variety of meanings, sometimes standing
for the whole faculty of thought, sometimes for the right exercise of
that faculty, and sometimes for the ground of beliefs or conclusions. On
these, however, I need not pause at present, as they must be discernible
to anyone who will be at the trouble of watching the employment of the
word either in books or in common conversation.
But in modern philosophy, since Kant and
Jacobi, it is used in a more limited sense, to denote the seat in our
minds of first principles, of à priori intuitions, of the necessary and
the universal, of ideas. The verbal distinctions in German between vernunft and
verstand, in English between reason and understanding,
corresponding to that of the Greeks between
δίανοια, are modern
in their fixed form, and their propriety has been questioned, but the
distinction between the things meant has been recognised in nearly every
philosophy not purely empirical.
The doctrine of an universal reason higher than the individual's
understanding, but by which that is enlightened, a reason impersonal in
each man, but participated in by every man, is found in the earlier
Fathers, in the writings of Descartes, Malebranche, and Norris, and is
insisted on with continued reiteration by Coleridge. It appears too, in
seats of higher and more sacred authority, in the sublime opening of St.
John's Gospel, and in St. Paul's speech to the Athenians.
I have said
that the propriety of applying the words verstand and vernunft by Kant
and Jacobi, the former to the lower, and the latter to the higher
endowment of the human mind, and the words understanding and reason in a
corresponding way, has been questioned. Such application, however, has
probably become too established to be now set aside. We use reason
indeed, when we are not dealing with its distinction from understanding
in the wide range of meaning to which I have already
referred; but when we are engaged with the distinction, it would be troublesome and difficult to find other words to
denote it than those now before us.
The words rational and rationalism plainly come from ratio, reason, but
reason in the large sense as denoting the human mind in general. The
title rationalist was at first given to a school in medicine, which
insisted on grounds and principles instead of with the empiricists going
by mere experience. See
Empiricism. In modern times it
usually denotes one who excludes the supernatural from his belief.