Who thinks that reason is social?

According to Aristotle’s Politics, humans are both rational and social animals. I wonder from what time onwards rationality and sociality were taken to be related. Of course you might think that they are not related in any interesting way. But it is clear that some philosophers took them to be related. One way of putting the problem is to combine these properties in a priority question: What is prior to what? Is rationality prior to sociality or is it the other way round. Is it reason that makes us social or is it sociality that makes us rational?

According to many medieval authors, human rationality is taken to be independent from human sociality. That’s why Aquinas, for instance, famously says that, if humans weren’t also social, they wouldn’t need langage on top of concepts. By contrast, people like Thomasius and Kant claim that rationality might depend on sociality. If we weren’t social, we couldn’t think (properly). So, reason is taken to be, to some extent, social (and therefore linguistic). Now this shift of emphasis seems to become more pronounced in the 18th century, but my hunch is that it might originate at least in Grotius and Pufendorf, who make socialitas the (anthropological) basis of natural law.

But I wonder whether this might not have some roots in earlier authors. Humanist and Renaissance philosophers might come to mind, but not to mine… So if you have any ideas regarding sources about the social nature of reason, please send them my way.

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2 Responses to Who thinks that reason is social?

  1. Calista Lam says:

    Sorry I know this is not the direction you want to point to, but your way of putting the issue reminds me of endoxa in Aristotle. Although endoxa is famously specified as “what is acceptable” [by many] and on the basis of which a “dialectical deduction” is deduced (Topics I.I. 100b21-23), I am more sympathetic to the view that, the fact that those views are being called ‘endoxa’ because they are reputable opinions among a community by no means implies that they function as starting points for the enquiry insofar and because they are reputable opinions.
    The issue of endoxa may be a little bit different from the issue you really interested in – “does sociality make us rational, or the other way round?”). There are two reasons for me to say this. First, as far as I know, even if these views being called ‘endoxa’ function as starting points of scientific/dialectical enquiry insofar and because they are opinions accepted by many, what matters is their being the starting points of enquiries, i.e. they are not being accepted as true propositions per se. I suppose there is a difference between accepting an opinion as a true proposition because it is accepted by many, and taking an opinion as the starting point of an inquiry because it is accepted by many.
    Second, the use of endoxa may imply a stronger connection between sociality and rationality then you have put it. If views called ‘endoxa’ have any epistemic credential at all in virtue of simply being accepted by many, what sociality leads to is not only a capacity to reason and to conduct rational enquiries, but also “some truth” in reputable views.
    Sorry for strolling too far away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Martin Lenz says:

      Thank you very much for your comment! You’re remarks strike me as spot-on. In fact, I will try to look at discussions of endoxa more closely, as the way you characterise the phenomenon does indeed suggest a stronger social basis of rationality than meets the eye. If you could direct me to texts or literature you have in mind, I would be most grateful. But thanks in any case. This is very helpful.


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