Hume and others would argue that reason is limited, that we can not know many things, and essentially provide sound reasons as to why reason is limited. But is it reasonable to use reason to conclude that reason is unreasonable? Doesn’t that seem a bit like fighting fire with fire?
Science seems to have always informed philosophy, and vice versa, filling in the other’s gaps. Before we had any understanding of how the brain works, philosophers had to suppose certain things like a soul. And what were they to think of thoughts? What sort of ontological status did thoughts have? They seemed ethereal and formless, having no real weight in reality, and being intangible.
Now, however, it has become apparent that thoughts do have some ontological weight – technically speaking, a thought can be any combination of electrical and chemical impulses and interactions in one’s brain. We do not understand perfectly or even remotely what a thought “looks” like, so to speak, or even what combinations of electrical signals and chemical reactions produce what thoughts, but the mere discovery of the impetus for thinking moves thinking from a purely abstract and intangible world to the world of hard reality and ontological weight. Sure, we may be talking about atomic or even subatomic relationships, but the fact remains that it is possible to observe and even ‘measure’ thoughts, in a sense. It is incumbent upon philosophers to reexamine what thinking means under this context.
I believe that language is an issue long deserving of some examination, also. Many might argue that thinking forms the very basis of philosophy, but to what degree is thinking subservient to language? It seems most thinking is entirely language dependent, save for those minority of people who think more symbolically (in pictures) or for those who are deaf and mute (yet still seem to think using a system of symbols – how else would they be able to communicate using sign language)? Symbolic thinking (a broader category to which language belongs), then, seems to form the basis of our thoughts. And different languages express different things, provide a different context under which we perceive the world (and as is known by scientists, our brain only processes a fraction of what is inputed to it as sensory data in order to interpret much of the world – using language, it seems, as at least a part of that processing station).
So, do the limitations of human reason owe themselves more to reason itself or to language, which it seems subservient to? Perhaps one day we will evolve a model of thinking even more efficient and useful than language – would the products of that system still be considered reason? Is this merely a question of semantics and unimportant to the points being made when one argues about the limitations of human reason?
All important questions, it seems.