The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

December 17, 2017

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Reason and Faith: A Lenten Reflection
Pierre Manent - 05/09/08

And yet the believer, like his rationalist or agnostic fellow-citizen, is always “outside himself,” always already taken up in human bonds that, like the non-believer, he is striving to strengthen, to make more just or sweeter. Each as much as the other must give a reasonable account of these bonds. We are trying to build a society within the limits of reason. With reason we have built these “enormous machines of happiness and pleasure” that protect our rights. And reason allows each to understand and calculate his interests well, and to make them compatible with those of others. But this extension of the self, this enlargement of the self, this participation of the self in something larger than itself, which is implied in every human bond, from the slightest to the grandest—can reason ground this, can it first even understand it? It can if it engages itself with all its strength in the search for being, for the being such that no greater being can be conceived. But then, at this extreme limit of its strength, it is necessary to accept, or not to accept, suspending its effort, but not its movement, and to let the greatest being come towards it; and then rational man must consent, or not, to let the truth come towards him.

One of the fathers of modern rationalism, the philosopher Bacon, remarked that Pilate, having asked “what is truth,” did not stay to wait for an answer. Reason, which questions, does not always listen to the answer; but the believer who believes he has the answer often has not listened to the question. The rationalist and the believer do not limp on the same foot. Thus they sustain each other, despite everything, and our limping species makes its way towards truth. Perhaps.

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