Views of an Agnostic
Rationalization of Man
by: Ross E. Browne
This is part 8 of Ross E. Browne's 1915 book, Views of an Agnostic.
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As compared with the next lower animal, we have reached a higher stage in the process of evolution by the development of far greater rationality. At the same time our elementary instincts have become less keen. In early youth we are relatively helpless and dependent. We have discarded some of our instincts and have substituted the precepts of our mentors, the convictions of reason, and the persuasions of fancy. We are engaged in eliminating those precepts and pictures of fancy, which, with growing knowledge, are shown to be in conflict with reason, and the convictions of reason, by habitual employment, are gradually becoming more and more intuitive. We are thus slowly undergoing the process of rationalization.
But do not let us forget that we are animals still, and are not yet emancipated from dependence upon instinct in the many fields as yet unconquered by reason. We have not yet reached that stage where rational conviction is uniformly reliable. We are still subject to error, both in selecting our -data and in forming our conclusions. We are still prone to jump to conclusions based upon insufficient data. Intuition is still, as a rule, a safer guide than an untested theory.
However, if we propose to promote government by reason we cannot well avoid taking some chances. We should be cautious in drawing our conclusions, but reasonably liberal in investigation and test, Conservatism in reaching a conviction is a good balance wheel for a venturesome and enterprising intelligence. If we wish to help along the process of rationalization we should, above all things, render due respect to the truth. We should not jump to conclusions because they are attractive, nor shirk them because they appear undesirable. It is quite evident that the primary demand of progress is the recognition of truth. Furthermore, we cannot rest upon intuition, but must resort to rational analysis and test,
Huxley says of civilized man that, having conquered his most powerful antagonists in the animal world, and having provided the ready means of acquiring the actual necessities of life, his troubles have changed somewhat in character. What was formerly a struggle for existence has now become a struggle for happiness.
Metchnikoff in his work on “The Nature of Man” points out various physical disharmonies to which we have become subject as the result of change of habit without due time for corresponding change of organism. We have many organs which are rudimentary, and, therefore, points of weakness, and many others, such as the distended stomach and lower intestine, which, through improper use, have become hotbeds of disease. Our earliest historic ancestors led a simpler life and were apparently stronger and more vigorous than we are, and, when spared from accident, they were longer lived, We are not properly adapted to our artificial mode of living, and our hope of improvement lies partly in modification of this mode, and partly in discovery of artificial methods of overcoming its pernicious effects.
It now seems probable that, hundreds of thousands of years ago, some of our ape-like ancestors, acquiring in an unusual degree the power of articulate speech, were stimulated, by exchange of ideas, to unprecedented mental activity, and there resulted a relatively rapid development of brain and intellectual power. There was no time for safe adjustment by the slow processes of nature, and the race became the prey of its own lively imagination and the ambition of its more gifted members. We are in consequence subject to many disharmonies between reason and sentiment, between desire and various demands of physical, mental and moral well being. Under the process of rationalization these may be eliminated or adjusted in time, but there are many setbacks and the process is painfully slow.
To sum up what has already been said in the foregoing pages, our tendency is to dislodge many of the blind instincts of our animal progenitors ; to substitute conceptions due to reason and fancy; to eliminate those conceptions of fancy which are found to be in conflict with reason, and thus ultimately to place ourselves under the control of intuitions based upon rational conviction. This means rationalism, involving necessarily due regard for truth, and recognition of ignorance regarding the unknown, or agnosticism. The effect upon social organization will depend very much upon the interval of time for suitable adjustment.