Berwyn, PA. In the first weeks of FPR, when we authors dared commit to writing one essay a week, as if we could all be either as drunk or logorheic as Jason Peters, I published a short piece called “Reasoning about Stories.” It came as not so much an argument as an intimation, a grasping effort to tie together thoughts whose signficance and interdependence I sensed, but which I did not fully comprehend, and its reflection culminated in the following assertion:
. . . when an idea or a discourse becomes entirely abstract-when logos so fully comes into its own being that it completely extricates itself from mythos-it loses its identity as an idea. In a word, it ceases to be rational
Allow me to rephrase that: the idea does not become irrational, for nothing we do can erase the mythos that gave it birth. Our discussions, or talk about ideas, become themselves irrational. In abandoning story, we lose the ability to reason about erstwhile rational propositions. We do lose, as the Romantics understood, the ability to know ourselves. And we lose a sense of living in community. But more devastating even than these great but sufferable loses, we lose the ability to live as rational animals.
During the next two years, I sifted out the implication of that claim, a project that led to several published essays and which will find its complete expression in the second section, on Truth, in my nearly completed book, The Vision of the Soul: A Conservative Defense of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
Among the desiderata of that work was an essay in the debut issue of Anamnesis, “Retelling the Story of Reason.” As an appendix to that essay, I wrote one on the cultural and intellectual consequences of disserving reason from story-telling, and Anamnesis has now published this appendix on line. There, among other things, I propose that our age so thoroughly distrusts the power of human reason that we have hollowed out those institutions most obviously dedicated to its reverent flourishing, our schools:
Increasingly, we see students called to “social awareness,” exhorted to “effect social change” by engaging in charitable service as part of or as the total content of their course work. We no longer tolerate a place where these activities might be acknowledged as important, but secondary, elements of a good life; an imperative to ease the material human estate blots out the possibility of an end beyond it and superior to it. We fear to offend the “less mentally-abled” by proposing that the life of contemplation might be superior to the practical life, since it is the point of contact between the human soul and the divine. Instead of thought, we have information sessions: course work in the humanities becomes a positivist form of history and sociology intended to excite indignation and lead to “service,” the raising of funds in a charitable campaign, or, at least, the hand-wringing of “white guilt.”
I hope this essay will help some FPR readers to enter into that place where prayer has been valid.