Critics of Rationalism: Contributors
Table of Contents
- Zoltan Balazs,
"Rationalism and Irrationalism:
Aurel Kolnai and Michael Oakeshott"
Zoltan Balazs compares the moral thinking of the Hungarian
philosopher and political theorist with that of Michael
Oakeshott. Despite broad areas of agreement between the two --
both are, in some sense, conservative, and both are critical
of the modern rationalist rejection of habit and custom --
Balazs finds that Kolnai provides something Oakeshott lacks:
a robust, non-relativistic conception of the good, and a
positive view of the role that a (non-rationalist) moral
philosophy might provide in shoring up that conception.
- Nathanael Blake,
"Between Rationalism and Relativism: Gadamer and MacIntyre on
Truth and Finitude"
Blake contends that the work of Gadamer and MacIntyre shows us
how to avoid the complementary dangers of rigid moral certitude
and spineless moral relativism. Both Gadamer and MacIntyre (who
has drawn heavily on Gadamer in his own writing) argue that
accepting the historically contingent nature of all of our
moral reasoning does not imply that any old moral
position is just as good as any other one. As Blake has it,
"Presenting Enlightenment rationalism as the alternative to
relativism is a false dichotomy... Rationality does not entail
leaping outside of our historical existence, but develops within
Both authors examined by Blake hold that tradition, far from
being an obstacle to reason, is, in fact, its necessary
ground: we can reason at all only by having become educated in a
tradition that instructs us in how to do so. As Gadamer notes,
pure inertia is never enough to sustain a tradition; instead,
it must be "affirmed, embraced, cultivated," and the
continuation of a tradition is every it as much a choice as
is revolution against it.
Furthermore, in moral reasoning the concrete is always more
important than the abstract, or, as Blake writes, "Moral
clarity arises from the realization that this is
the right thing to do, here and now, in this
In the end, Blake finds MacIntyre's viewpoint more
comprehensive than Gadamer's, in that the latter
is dismissive of natural law theories of morality,
while the former finds a place for them
as the ground rules for any engagement in moral reasoning with
- Gene Callahan,
"Hayek and Oakeshott on Rationalism"
Callahan's central thesis is that, while
Oakeshott's and Hayek's understanding of rationalism
bear similarities, there are also important differences,
differences that are, in the end, even more important than
the similiarities. Furthermore, the differences are
comprehensible when understood as arising from the two
thinkers different philosophical outlooks: Hayek's
emergent materialism and Oakeshott's idealism.
Given his outlook, Hayek must understand rationalism
as the attempt to handle, with reason, areas of human life
that are inherently "nonrational." Oakeshott, on the
other hand, conceives as rationalism as the attempt
to apply abstract reason, and in particular scientific
abstractions, to problems that can only be handled
through practical reasoning.
- Colin Cordner,
"The Diagnosis of Scientism:
Eric Voegelin and Michael Polanyi on Science and Philosophy"
- David Corey,
"Voegelin on Ideology"
- Timothy Fuller,
"Oakeshott, Strauss and Voegelin on Hobbes"
Strauss saw a fundamental continuity between Hobbes
and the classical tradition of political philosophy in the
following regard: "He pursued a philosophic understanding of
politics which cannot be reduced merely to debate over policy
Voegelin appreciated Hobbes's effort to dampen the
fanaticism that the religious schisms of his time had produced.
But he argued that Hobbes's attempt ultimately came up short,
as questions of "ultimate meaning" cannot, in fact,
be continually banished from politics, but will
repeatedly arise in new political movements resisting
the banishment of the sacred from political life.
Oakeshott understood Hobbes as the first great thinker
to seriously grapple with the modern condition of
a polity composed of individuals with fundamentally
Fuller concludes, "Oakeshott, Strauss and Voegelin, in setting
out to do this each in his own way, attest to Hobbes’s
significance by engaging him at the level of philosophic
dialogue he invites."
- Grant Havers,
"Wittgenstein and the Athens-Jerusalem Conflict"
Grant Havers addresses the problem of the "two Wittgensteins":
the young positivist who wrote the Tractatus, and the
latter thinker who was skeptical about the power of abstract
thought, and at times even seemed skeptical of the whole
philosophical venture. Havers sets his examination of
Wittgenstein in the context of the conflict between
Athens and Jerusalem highlighted by Leo Strauss.
In particular, Havers asked whether, by his later-life embrace
of the "Jerusalem" side of the conflict with "Athens,"
Wittgenstein had not, in fact, abandoned philosophy completely
in favor of faith. Havers seeks his answer chiefly in
Wittgenstein's work Culture and Value, believing it
"represents Wittgenstein's deepest reflections on the conflict
between Athens and Jerusalem." In particular, Havers sees that
work as containing Wittgenstein's "subtle defense of the
ontological argument" for the existence of God. Havers believes
that this argument, as understood by Wittgenstein, "helps us
truly understand what is at stake in the conflict between
Athens and Jerusalem."
Havers provocatively suggests that Wittgenstein, in the
end, finds the ontological argument to be one that shortcuts
the dualism of religion versus philosophy, as it
employs philosophical reasoning to demonstrate that God
is not an empirical object that science could discover
"out there" in the world, and that faith in God, once
properly understood as an attitude towards life,
is at least as "rational" as scientific materialism.
And he goes on to suggest that true philosophy and genuine
religious faith are actually allies, both opposed to "the
idols of God and Man."
- Ferenc Hörcher,
"Comparing Oakeshott's and MacIntyre's Concepts of Practical
- Kenneth McIntyre,
"The Critique of Scientism: Ryle and Oakeshott on Tacit
Kenneth McIntyre's paper examines the similar critiques
of rationalism offered by Oakeshott and his English
contemporary, Gilbert Ryle. Ryle's masterwork, The
Concept of Mind, received a favorable review from
Oakeshott, although he did criticize it for offering a
somwhat shallow characterization of idealism. Neverthless,
the reviewer clearly felt that Ryle's critique of
contemporary doctrines of mind as a "ghost in the machine"
were largely in agreement with his own work on rational
conduct. Neither thinker thought that action could
possibly come about as it should per the rationalist
account: no one could "rationally," with an empty slate
mind, simply think about some activity, prior to having
engaged in it, and then go about it with mastery. Oakeshott's
summary of Ryle (from his review) shows how close their
"In general [Ryle's] doctrine is that 'when we describe people
is exercising qualities of mind, we are not referring to occult
episodes of which their overt acts and utterances are effects:
we are referring to those overt acts and utterances
themselves.' Mental activity is not the activity of a 'mind,'
or activity which takes place in the hidden recesses of a mind,
in distinction from the activity of a body: it is doing and
saying things in a particular manner."
Neverthless, the two thinkers differed in some important ways.
As McIntyre notes, Oakeshott had a much more robust conception
of the "modes" in which thought might appear than did Ryle, who
simply noted that we quite properly think about different areas
of life employing different ways of proceeding. And the
philosophical basis for Oakeshott's critique of rationalism is
more explicit: it stems from his British Idealist roots. Ryle,
a serious student of phenomenological philosophy, mentioned
that his attack on the ghost in the machine might be understood
as a work of phenomenology, but did not stress this connection,
something that might be viewed as either a weakness or a
strength in his approach, depending on one's view of the
importance of philosophical grounding for an epistemology.
Despite these differences, Oakeshott and Ryle can be seen as
twin sons of different mothers, both working to undermine the
same, prevalent misconception of the nature of the mental. As
McIntyre sums it up:
"The philosophical significance of Ryle's
and Oakeshott's conclusions is
quite far-reaching. The acceptance of the priority of tacit knowledge
involves the rejection of philosophical
accounts of morality, politics, and
the law which reduce them to a set of
rule-like statements and a similar
rejection of the reductionist accounts of
- Mark T. Mitchell,
Michael Polanyi, Eric Voegelin, and the Indispensability of
Mitchell compares the attitude of Eric Voegelin and
Michael Polanyi to the problem of faith.
As Mitchell puts it:
"the epistemological solution encompassed in Polanyi's
personal knowledge fits well with Voegelin’s insistence that we
must recover an awareness of human participation in
the solutions offered by both provide useful
supports for the other: Polanyi's theory of knowledge adds an
important dimension to Voegelin, while Voegelin's insistence on
openness to the transcendent makes explicit what Polanyi only
- John von Heyking,
"Was Hayek a Rationalist?"
Daniel Sportiello, "Rationalism in Voegelin."
Zoltan Balazs, is Professor of Political Science,
Corvinus University of
Budapest and Senior Research Fellow of
the Center of Social Studies of
the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
His latest book is The Principle of the
Separation of Powers: A Defense, by Rowman and Littlefield, 2016.
Nathanael Blake has a PhD in political theory from the Catholic
University of America. He lives in Missouri with his wife and a small
pack of dogs.
Gene Callahan has a Ph.D. in Political Theory from Cardiff University,
and is the author of Economics for Real People, Oakeshott
on Rome and America, and hundreds of articles and papers in
both popular and scholarly outlets.
Colin Cordner completed his Ph.D. in Political Science at Carleton
University (Ottawa, Canada) in 2016, where he is an instructor and
occasional poet. His recent research
focuses upon the works of Plato,
Michael Polanyi, and Eric Voegelin on
scientism qua sophism, and on the
spiritual crises and political disorders which such movements have
helped engender. In his other lives, he is also quite focused upon
pondering anamnesis as a meditative practice
and its relationship with education, science, and philosophy.
David Corey is Professor of Political Science
in the Honors Program and
Department of Political Science at Baylor University.
He is the author
of The Sophists in Plato’s Dialogues (SUNY Press, 2015)
and (with J. Daryl Charles)
of The Just War Tradition (ISI Books, 2012).
Timothy Fuller is Professor of Political
Science at Colorado College.
Most recently he has edited a collection of essays,
Machiavelli's Legacy: The Prince After 500 Years
(UPenn Press 2016)
and On Liberty and Its Enemies, Essays of
Kenneth Minogue (Encounter Books 2017).
Grant Havers is Chair of the Department of Philosophy (with a
cross-appointment in the Department of Political Studies) at Trinity
Western University. He has published and lectured widely on political
philosophy. His most recent book is
Leo Strauss and Anglo-American Democracy: A Conservative Critique
(Northern Illinois University Press, 2013).
Ferenc Hörcher is a political philosopher, historian of political
thought and philosopher of art. He studied in Budapest, Oxford and
Brussels-Leuven. He is professor of Philosophy at Pázmány Péter
Catholic University and director of the Institute of Philosophy of the
Hungarian Academy of Science. He also taught at the Jagiellonian
University, Kraków and the Babes-Bólyai University in Cluj-Napoca
(Kolozsvár). He researched in Göttingen, Wassenaar, Cambridge,
Edinburgh and at Notre Dame University,USA. His last book-length
publication is an English-Hungarian bilingual volume entitled Of the
Usefulness of the Humanities (L'Harmattan, 2014).
Kenneth B. McIntyre is an Associate Professor of Political Science at
Sam Houston State University. He is the author of
The Limits of Political Theory:
Oakeshott’s Philosophy of Civil Association and
Herbert Butterfield: History, Providence, and Skeptical Politics.
Mark T. Mitchell is Professor of Government
at Patrick Henry College.
He is the author of
The Politics of Gratitude: Scale, Place
and Community in a Global Age
Michael Polanyi: The Art of Knowing and
co-editor of The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry,
The Culture of
Immodesty in American Life and Politics: The Modest Republic
Localism in the Mass Age: A Front Porch Republic Manifesto
(forthcoming). He is the co-founder of
Front Porch Republic and in
2008-9 he was a fellow at the James Madison Program at Princeton
John von Heyking is Professor of
Political Science at the University of
Lethbridge, where he teaches political
philosophy and religion and politics.
He is author of The Form of Politics:
Aristotle and Plato on Friendship (2016)
and Augustine and Politics as Longing
in the World (2001). He has coedited
numerous volumes including two volumes of the
Collected Works of Eric Voegelin and, most recently,
Hunting and Weaving, Empiricism and Political Philosophy
(2013). He has published scholarly articles on
topics including friendship,
cosmopolitanism, liberal education, empire,
Islamic political thought,
punishment, and religious liberty in Canada.
His editorials have appeared in
the Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald,
C2C: Canada's Journal of Ideas,
Troy Media, and Convivium.
His forthcoming book,"Comprehensive Judgment" and
"Absolute Selflessness": Winston Churchill on Politics as
will be published fall 2017.
Daniel Edward Young is Professor
of Political Science at Northwestern
College (Iowa). He is a political theorist
with research interests in
contemporary political thought, the
political theory of international
relations, and the intersection of theology
and political theory. He
has authored a number of articles,
book chapters, book reviews, and