The contours of one’s understanding are determined and limited only by the boundaries of reason and experience. But I believe that is already too well known to be commented or elaborated upon. However, I often myself wondering as to whether experience is fashioned by reason or reason is honed and sharpened by experience, and I have so far not been able to find a satisfactory solution to the problem. I don’t see a reason to deny the possibility of reason and experience influencing each other. To accept and proclaim that reason and experience complement each other and work together to build the individual and collective repository of human wisdom would not only be too easy and too hasty a conclusion to draw, but would also be insincere and flippant. After all, without investigating as to how far does reason inform the experience and how far does experience influence reason, drawing a blanket conclusion that they are complementary to each other is nothing short of an attempt to sidestep the real issues on account of intellectual lethargy.
When we meet the first light of the world after birth, we have no experience of the world at all. How do we understand the world then? What are the tools that we have working for us? Experience without comprehension is barren and is incapable of producing any results at all. So, what makes us capable of understanding the world in the first place? Yes, there is not understanding right from the start. But the ability to understand is certainly present. And the capacity to comprehend one’s surroundings and circumstances is not unique to human beings. Animals have much the same ability to understand the surroundings and draw primary inferences without which they just cannot survive a day in the wild. So, reason as the basic ability to think, analyze and draw inferences is present in all living being because it is an existential requirement.
Reason alone is not enough because, all said and done, it is only an ability to draw conclusions. It’s only a tool, and, like any other tool, it is just as good as the skills of the user to put it to optimum use. Experience is required for one to be able to understand how to use this skill to the fullest. So, experience is the rock that sharpens the tool of reason. However, without reason experience has no meaning because it is the reason and reason alone that accords meaning to experience, which is why a man and a dog placed in the same circumstances can draw divergent conclusions and react very differently. Without reason experience is nothing but a series or bunch of sensory inputs initiated by external stimuli. After all, what is experience without understanding? Therefore, reason is not only the primary requirement for all knowledge to exist, but is also the prerequisite for ‘experience’ itself.
Originally published on Ezine Articles on May 03, 2013.