Advocating a view that was once common to Christian thought, philosopher William Wainwright examines the thesis that man is 'capable of knowing God on the basis of evidence-but only when one's cognitive faculties are rightly disposed.' This fruitful middle ground steers between the modern extremes of objective reason (God can be known only by excluding passion, desire, and emotion from the process of reasoning) and subjectivism (God can be known only by the heart), placing a high value on proofs and arguments while embracing the belief that a properly disposed heart is vital to the force of such evidence. Examining the contributions of Jonathan Edwards, John Henry Newman, and William James, Wainwright points out that they share a sense of the ultimate nature of reality, believing that (when properly disciplined) our passional nature tracks the truth. He moves on to discuss the two most important objections to this view: subjectivism and circularity. That the passions should affect reasoning strikes many as 'epistemically, or even morally, objectionable.' As for circularity, Wainwright maintains that such reasoning is endemic to most disciplines. The theologically minded are, by and large, better judges of the evidence for theological conclusions, but the same is true for historians and philosophers. Wainwright continues with the problem of relativism, asserting that the passional reason approach may be the only means of avoiding it. If this is true, his critique effectively demonstrates the overlap of ethics and logic.
An Eighth Day View:
Between the opposing claims of reason and religious subjectivity may be a middle ground, William J. Wainwright argues. His book is a philosophical reflection on the role of emotion in guiding reason. There is evidence, he contends, that reason functions properly only when informed by a rightly disposed heart.The idea of passional reason, so rarely discussed today, once dominated religious reflection, and Wainwright pursues it through the writings of three of its past proponents: Jonathan Edwards, John Henry Newman, and William James. He focuses on Edwards, whose work typifies the Christian perspective on religious reasoning and the heart. Then, in his discussion of Newman and James, Wainwright shows how the emotions participate in non-religious reasoning. Finally he takes up the challenges most often posed to notions of passional reason: that such views justify irrationality and wishful thinking, that they can't be defended without circularity, and that they lead to relativism. His response to these charges culminates in an eloquent and persuasive defense of the claim that reason functions best when influenced by the appropriate emotions, feelings, and intuitions.