Thursday, March 20, 2008

On Reason

In his new book Kantian Ethics (Cambridge, 2008), Allen Wood points out that Vernunft, the word Kant uses for 'reason', derives from the German word 'to hear' (vernehmen). Wood writes, "A rational (or reasonable) person is above all someone who 'listens to reason,' who is capable of hearing and understanding others when they offer reasons" (p. 18). Wood thinks that on etymological grounds we see that (this is not a philosophical argument), "Reasons..are essentially to be shared between people--they are never only the private possession of those for whom they are reasons" (19). On this view, when one acts according to reasons, one acts on reasons that are intersubjectively grounded. I think this is a view worked out in some detail in Fichte's Foundations of Natural Right and also in Darwall's The Second-Person Standpoint, a book I hope to start posting on soon.

I found the etymological point interesting, especially since I don't remember coming across it before. After a quick glance at Caygill's entry on 'reason' in the Kant Dictionary I found no mention of this point. I thought I would check the OED for any similar connections in English. Granted, the phrases we use like 'He just doesn't listen to reason' make a similar point. This phrase appears to go as far back as 1225, "I heard nu reisuns" and in 1440 we have "new resones speke." Reasons are also seen: 1740 J. Clarke, "I never yet saw believe."


kt said...

I hear you. Hegel mentions the etymology of Vernunft in the Lectures on the Philosophy of World History:

Anonymous said...

Back in 1819, Schopenhauer discussed the connnection between Vernunft and hearing in his "World as Will and Representation," Vol. 1.