Notes for Bruce B. Janz “Reason and Rationality in Eze's On Reason”
Key concepts: competence, conceptual vernacular, disquotational theory of reference, internal realism, ordinary reason, performance, provenance, rationality, reason.
Related theorists: Noam Chomsky, Paul Edwards, Emmanuel Eze, N. Katherine Hayles, Hilary Putnam, Richard Rorty, Peter Winch.
Distinguishing Reason and Rationality
(296-297) The distinction is as follows: reason is a process and an activity, while rationality is a property of the person, one that expresses itself through (at least) the processes of reason. . . . Put another way, reason is a necessary but not sufficient condition for recognizing rationality. . . . Showing the ability to follow a train of thought or apply processes of inference is not in itself a guarantee that one has the property of rationality.
(297) In discussions of reason both within and without African philosophy (including Eze), it is remarkable how fluidly writers move from one sense to another. This is not necessarily a sign of lack of rigor, but it may be a sign that the term serves different purposes at different times. It is not one concept, but a kind of ecology of concepts, not identical, not totally separate, related in complex ways, but without a unified core.
Compare judgment of language competence to rationality.
(298) Clearly, the having of a property such as rationality is going
to be a lot harder to demonstrate than will the ability to implement
reason. It might be analogous to the distinction between knowing that
someone knows a language and recognizing their ability to use phrases
or sentences in that language. . . . What is needed is for the
listener to bring something to the task.
(299) The question of whether rationality is unified, as we shall see below, is the very question at stake.
(299) We might say, then, that while reason is observable and confirmable, rationality is inferred and dependent on context.
(299) Recognizing rationality, then, is more than recognizing the applications or processes of reason. It involves linking together instances of reason with contextual cues to indicate a meaningful context. . . . It is important to note that since rationality is established by those who already have it, the context will be one that existing rational beings will take as determinative.
Example of medieval philosophical debates over rationality of God versus humans.
(299) The point is this: is it possible that difference in
rationality might not indicate a lack of rationality, but merely a
difference, and that that difference, properly considered, might
create new forms of rationality?
(300) Now, the only reason for bringing up the medieval experience is to plant the idea that difference in rationality might be a productive thing, rather than a problem to be overcome.
2. Two Problems Disguised as One in African Philosophy
Compare different bases of reason and logic to contestations in Macy conferences highlighted by Edwards and Hayles.
In the first case, the question turns on whether reason, either in
its basic structure or in its various forms, is universal or
particular (and for 'particular' some would use 'relative'). . . .
So, for instance, one might wonder whether logic is in fact
universal, or whether it has local, 'ethno', strains or iterations
that are not merely forms of some wider sense of logic. Western
logic, for instance, has largely been based on a binary system
(true/false); what if logic were based on some other system, as in
some Indian forms of logic? The same might be said of ethics (are
meta-ethical principles localized or not?) or philosophical
anthropology (is there a sense of the 'person' that differs in
(300) This debate is often traced to Peter Winch's The Idea of Social Science (Winch), in which he argued in a Wittgensteinian fashion that reason is irreducibly particular, that is, related to specific cultural groups.
Problem of rationality less like different bases of logic in different cultural groups than Chomsky distinction between performance and competence in speaking a language.
The problem of rationality is a different one. It has to do not with
processes but capabilities and properties. Its crudest formulations
came at the end of the Enlightenment, when thinkers such as Hume,
Kant, and Hegel argued that Africans were not capable of having a
philosophical life because they did not possess rationality. It was
this conviction that undergirded colonialism. . . . Like animals,
they could be trained; like computers, they could be programmed. It
was that Africans did not, and could not, possess rationality.
(301) On way to clarify this is to adapt Chomsky's distinction between performance and competence.
Philosophy and other disciplines like languages with many dialects, speaking in ways that betray provenance.
(302) The rationality debate takes on the character of the earlier example over whether someone can speak German. . . . The point, though, is that one might think of philosophy as a language, in which case other languages might be other disciplines. . . . Philosophy, though, comes in dialects. Rationality has attended over time to the conditions of its production, not just the demands of universalization. Some philosophers insist that the only concern of philosophy is the universal; I would argue that the universal is always the concern of philosophy, but it is not the location of philosophy. Philosophy is dialectic (although not dialectical), in the sense that it speaks in ways that betray its provenance.
Rationality also question about thought-life: compare to Suchman plans and situated actions.
(302) It is also a question about what I call the 'thought-life', or the path that a set of concepts define in a particular place.
3. Eze's Ordinary Reason
Eze conceptual vernacular as detected by phenomenological analysis of everyday experience without transcendental posturings recognizes diversity of rationality; use method to consider emergence of rationality as programming styles among groups from preliminary studies by Turkle, Rosenberg, and others.
Eze frames it as the question of emergence – where does rationality
(303) This attention to diversity in rationality Eze calls 'conceptual vernacular', which is 'the task of philosophical analysis of experience in everyday cultures of everyday peoples' (xv). His task is phenomenological without phenomenology's 'transcendental posturings, and the resultant derogation of everyday cultures of the peoples of the world.'
(303) In a sense, then, Eze responds to my distinction between the problem of reason and the problem of rationality but particularizing the capacity of rationality and by showing that reason itself precedes and generates rationality, rather than the other way around, that is, rather than the idea that rationality must be in place first and then forms of reason are deployed (or, in the case of reason without rationality, we have instinct or mimicry).
Varieties of rational experience, not layers.
But he does not want to tie this diversity primarily to cultural
factors. . . . The varieties he discusses are calculative reason
(basically scientific reasoning), formal reason (logic),
hermeneutical reason (the grounding of the form two kinds in
ontology, or in the question of their relation to being), empirical
reason (not science, but reason based in experience),
phenomenological reason (the relationship of empirical reason to
consciousness), and transcendental reason (phenomenological reason
extended to the search for the general conditions of consciousness).
. . . It is merely a list that underscores his position that there
are multiple forms of reason available to anyone, and that this
multiplicity cuts across cultural or racial lines.
(303) He finishes the list off with one more form of reason: ordinary reason. . . . while all these forms of reason are legitimate and contribute to the diversity of rationality, they all must be located in ordinary reason.
(304) Eze follows Rorty in resisting any sort of Platonism. In an extension of Aristotle, both Eze and Rorty argue that reason is 'a Darwinian ('pragmatic') biological and historical phenomenon' (113-114). . . . our metaphysics and epistemology become available within the context of our lived world, which includes our ethics and our politics.
(304) There is a critical, skeptical aspect to ordinary or vernacular reason.
Putnam disquotational performance as criterion for ordinary reason, a diachronic account.
Eze proposes looking to the disquotational
theory of reference,
version of it, as a way to avoid 'these questions about causality
without falling into the problem of a reaction to Platonism nor to an
embrace of Hume's hyperbolic skepticism' (117). What Eze sees in
disquotationality is the ability 'to assert something as true by
the meaning of
experienced facts' (117). . . . The truth of the statement under
question is established by 'dis-quoting' it, that is, taking it out
of the quotation marks by bringing the level of experience to bear on
the statement itself.
(304-305) It is here where we can see that Eze's concern is not to identify forms of reason, or distinguish reason from unreason, but to account for what happens in performances of reason, and what is made possible when reason is performed. It is a creative act – 'knowing how to linguistically conform to rules allows one the freedom to generate or reproduce, according to a rule, what is learned from experience in the rules governing disquotation as such' (118).
(305) Eze sees this model as one which sidesteps 'the Platonism implicit in a strong correspondence theory of truth, but also the echoes of Platonism in thick realism (e.g., the claim that language 'tracks' an extralingusitic world or 'hooks' onto objects)' (119).
(305) Eze's account, in the end, is more diachronic than synchronic, and it must be, for it requires that there be a world of experience, with already established practices, to ground reason, which in turn produces rationality.
Eze's Answer to the Problems of Reason and Rationality in African
(306) The key is not the 'truth' in some abstract sense, but rather in understanding both the ordinary events being explained, plus the conceptual frame being used.
Creative potential in discovering emergent practiced expressions of rationality helps assimilate cyborg, extended mind subjectivities to traditional Cartesian mind (Hayles), including practices derived from critical programming.
The example to this point has been based on Putnam's internal
What does Eze add? I believe he adds the move from reason to
rationality. In other words, we have to figure out what the socially
appropriate questions are. . . . The key is not to identify who is
and who is not rational (everyone is), but rather to see what new
concepts might be made available under emergent practiced expressions
of rationality. This does not mean that there is no 'better' or
'worse' in reason, or that relativism reigns. It means that the
capacity of rationality does not precede the expressions of reason,
but follows them, and amounts to a creative, localized response to
the tensions and incongruities inherent in recognizing different
contexts of reason.
(307) The problem of reason disappears – reason is both particular and universal. . . . Diverse forms of reason exist for different purposes, and that diversity is not particularly a function of culture, but of purpose.
(307) It emerges out of forms of reason, as they interact, find their possibilities and limits, and serve the needs of a community. And philosophical rationality then becomes one particular mode of the configuration of forms of reason, one kind of question one might ask or focus one might have toward reason. It is concept-focused and analytic toward reason, but to the extent that its analysis loses sight or memory of its origins in ordinary reason, it becomes 'narcissistic' and 'ethnocentric' (115).
Janz, Bruce B. “Reason and Rationality in Eze's On Reason.” South African Journal of Philosophy 27:4 (2008): 296-309. Print.