A friend recently related the story of how he once pointed a T-37 Trainer straight up to see how high he could go.
But he didn’t get very far and the near disaster of that experience offers an apt illustration on the limits of reason.
But first, thrust-to-weight ratios are important in jets. A ratio greater than one means a jet can gain altitude going straight up– a ratio less than one requires a gentler ascent.
The T-37 has a ratio less than one, so going perpendicular is all about momentum before entering the climb.
But once that momentum is used up, the jet will start to fall– tail first!
And one thing about falling tail first is there’s no guarantee of regaining control before crashing.
My friend was lucky.
But even if he had been flying the most powerful of jets, he still would have eventually had a “tail first” moment. That’s because jet engines require oxygen and oxygen gets scarcer as altitude increases.
So jets don’t make good spacecraft. They are made to fly within the atmosphere and can never escape from it.
. . . so also with reason . . . .
Rationality is a function of culture and cannot “fly” above it. Yes, some intellects may have a higher “thrust-to-weight” than others, but none can climb so high as to operate above all cultures. (“Divine perspectives” are not possible– so also with “zero” perspectives.)
What’s reasonable and rational in one culture may be unreasonable and irrational in another– and reason itself has no way of standing outside both cultures to sort out the differences.
This is not to say that all cultures are equal.
A culture that equips its members to understand their culture and the cultures of others is better than one that does neither. A culture that draws refugees from other cultures is better than one that produces them. And on and on . . . .
But all of these judgments are culturally conditioned– hence the point. Reason is captive to culture.
This means the Enlightenment’s attempt to use reason as a way of grounding knowledge in certainties that transcend all cultures has not succeeded– “foundationalism” has lost all momentum and has “crashed tail first.”
But this does not mean the age-old contest between cultures is completely relativized.
It does mean, however, that in a pluralistic society, language about such things as God is no less grounded than other language.
The characterization of one as “rational” and another as “irrational” is . . .
. . . in the end . . .
. . . irrational.