What is Reasonable?

Two Competing Conceptions

Something I’ve been contemplating a bit is that my definition of reasonable - or of Reason itself - has as of late become a lot more fuzzy.

In my more Libertarian™ youth, I was told that Reason was an “objective absolute,” something that Man uses in place of claws/fangs/strength to conquer The Beasts and The Nature, but upon further reading I see now that this description is a bit at-odds with itself.

I’m sure that there is a much larger body of Epistemological discourse on this basic observation, but the two competing conceptions of Reason that I am currently mulling over are something like:

  1. Reason - a decision or judgement process pertaining to logic, relying on a state of non-contradiction
    -> “that which does not contradict”

  2. Reason - a decision or judgement process that promotes survival, or better, promotes flourishing (especially human survival and human flouring)
    -> “that which promotes survival”


The first one engenders the Enlightenment, a bunch of high IQ Anglos in a London day club, Empiricism, and Science - but also, Scientism, a lack of some survivalist forcing function, individualism at the expense of connection, and perhaps also some sort of quasi-autistic quality. It’s highly effective, but also cold in a way that might not actually be fully constructive to human nourishment.

The latter definition is more subtle, I believe I first heard it during one of the audiobooks in Taleb’s Incerto (though I can’t find it off-hand) and he typically provides a much closer link to The Ancients when he writes about these sort of thing.

An advocate of this this latter conception of Reason might say it is more robust, more survivalist, more connected with being an Animal in Nature, more Human(e), more Will to Power - though also clearly more ambiguous and ultimately very subjective. This second definition is the only version of Reason available to a non-human animal.


In the micro day-to-day things, much will likely be reasonable in both of these senses - you should eat food, socialize, exercise, find a mate, raise a family.

Where I see things really splitting is at the level of human socialization, civilization, species - the macro. In order to better organize and survive, it may be necessary for humans to spin grand narratives, to believe in irrational or unprovable things, to tell Noble Lies that support some sort of group cohesion and flourishing. Individuals may also have to lie to themselves about the nature of reality to make sense in an otherwise senseless world; abstraction is difficult to many and most people need to cope in some way.

Strictly speaking these illusions, these fictions told at either the group or individual level may be contradictions that promote survival. They are cases that make my two conceptions of Reason incompatible in many ways.


Ultimately language and words are a human attempt at mapping abstract concepts in order to relay them to others - and I think this is clearly a situation in which two distinct concepts are vying for the same variable name.

I don’t specifically know which one is a more reasonable definition but it has been helpful for me to simultaneously be aware of each version and its limitations.

I will hold them both in my head separately as I continue to piece them together, even if language is slightly inadequate at distinguishing between them.