Fr. Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., at his always-excellent blog, Sancrucensis, has a wonderful post today, “‘Reasoning Is Worse than Scolding.” In short, he uses Dickens’s David Copperfield to come to this conclusion,
As Fr Hunwicke recently remarked, “Anti-intellectualism is a stance people very often adopt when they propose to do something irrational,” and it is even more the stance that people adopt one when they do not want to have the unpleasantness of being rationally strict with others. But in the long run such a stance always leads to misery. Happiness can only come from conforming human life to right reason, and a cowardly and infantile refusal of the demands of reason leads to misery in this life, and eternal punishment in the next.
(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink omitted.) Read the whole thing there. It’s enough, by the way, to convince us that we have been perhaps unjust to David Copperfield, preferring A Tale of Two Cities and Bleak House.
We perhaps state the obvious when we say say that one cannot hope to live a virtuous life without constant application of reason—we note that Aristotle says as much. Moral excellence, Aristotle tells us, “is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it.” (Ethic. II.6, 1106b36–1107a2 [emphasis supplied], Barnes ed. p. 1748.) But everyone knows this instinctively. (Cf., e.g., ST Ia IIae q.91 a.2 co. & ad 2–3.) It makes sense, intuitively, that you can’t know how to be good without reason, since being good involves regular application of reason. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff. But the upshot is this: Fr. Waldstein is right when he identifies an intrinsic connection between reason and happiness.
Or he would have been right for pretty much the entire history of the West. Whether he is right today seems to be a different question. Certainly, there are any number of movements at large today that hold that happiness is contingent upon fundamentally irrational things. (We will omit, for our sensibilities as much as yours, naming them.) In other words, people insist that they will be happy only if they do something irrational. And the thing is, few people seem to object on this basis; they may object on other bases, but they do not insist that the thing the people want is irrational.
We have written a little bit about the Church’s process of losing things—for example, the Church seems to have lost a sense that the Divine Office ought to be part of her public worship—and it seems to us that society is on the verge of losing the ability to think in terms of reason and unreason. That is, we don’t criticize various ideas and proposals as being irrational. We criticize them as immoral or impractical or expensive or unbiblical or any of a whole host of things. But none of those criticisms is quite the same thing as the criticism that something is irrational.
At any rate, check out Fr. Waldstein’s post.