What is True?

Why Acting with Reason and Respect is Wise and Rare

Acting with reason and respect is the best way to live your life.

That claim seems sensible enough, doesn’t it?

After all, very few people consciously intend to live in a unreasonable and disrespectful manner.

Most of us recognize that living according to reason and respect is a wise way to live.

Fair enough. But I also believe that a life marked by reason and respect is rarer than we might initially imagine.

Here is why.

One: Acting with reason means that we have good reasons for doing what we do.

After all, it would be hard to claim that we act with reason if we have no reason at all for what we do.

The Debate of Socrates and Aspasia, by Nicolas-André Monsiau, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In addition, if we act on poorly considered or nonsensical reasons, we won’t act with reason either.

Two: Acting with respect means that we treat people, even ones who think very differently from us, with basic human dignity.[1]

When we act with respect, we honor something important and noteworthy about people.

The important thing about people is their human dignity, which is their ability to develop positive human capacities to improve their unique corner of the world.

(Positive human capacities are capacities like love, justice, wisdom, and creativity, to name a few.)

Such excellence definitely deserves respect because it is the main source of goodness and beauty in the world.

Respecting people’s dignity doesn’t mean we excuse bad behavior or let people do whatever they want.

It simply means we recognize their ability to develop positive human capacities to improve their unique corner of the world.

And we do what we can to support such growth and to avoid hindering it.

Now, the first question is, “Why is acting with reason and respect wise?”

It is wise because the more consistently we act with reason, the more we form habits that develop our positive human capacities.

This helps us respect ourselves and others and improve the world.

Acting with respect is wise because the more we honor everyone’s dignity, the easier it is to act with reason.

The second questions is, “Why is acting with reason and respect rare?”

Acting with reason is rare because it requires that we stop and think through what we do and why we do it.

But often, we don’t do this. Rather, we act according to habit, impulse, or social pressure.

In addition, acting with reason requires that we regularly consult a wide variety of different opinions on issues.

That’s because consulting a variety of opinions introduces us to the variety of reasons people act the way they do.

This makes it easier to identify when we rely on habit, impulse, and social pressure to act.

So, consulting a variety of opinions helps us consider which reasons for action are truly good reasons.

The Death of Socrates, by Jacques Louis-David, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But unfortunately, many of us avoid listening to opinions and reasons that differ from our own.

Instead, we consult the opinions of people who think much like we do because it feels safe and familiar.

As a result, we believe we act with reason when, in fact, we still act from our same habit, impulse, and social pressure reinforced by the ideas of people who hold similar ideas.

And lastly, acting with reason require us to recognize that sometimes our actions are not, in fact, governed by reason.

This kind of humility requires that we  admit we are wrong and that we try to change.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for us to admit we are wrong.

That is because most of us want to be reasonable and respectful people. And it can be painful to admit that we have missed the mark in this area.

It can also be uncomfortable to give up old reasons for doing things and seek out better reasons.

And just as acting with reason is rare, acting with respect is also rare. That’s because it requires that we allow people to hold opinions different from our own.

Most of us hold strong opinions about life. And this can be a good thing because strong opinions can drive us to develop our positive human capacities.

However, when we hold our opinions too strongly, we often feel uncomfortable when people think or act differently than we do.

And often we don’t know how to handle this discomfort productively.

As a result, we try to force them to adopt our opinions and behave how we want them to behave.

This is much more comfortable to us.

However, when we hold our opinions too strongly and try to force others to think like we do, we make three common mistakes.

First, we fail to realize that some of our opinions are wrong.

Second, we fail to realize that there may be more than one reasonable opinion.

Third, we fail to realize that part of respecting people is respecting their right to hold opinions, even when they differ from ours.[2]

All three of these mistakes are very common. I’ve made these mistakes before, and if you are like a lot of folks, you have, too.

As you might have figured out, reason and respect go hand-in-hand.

The more we seek out good reasons for doing things, the more we want to encourage others to do the very same.

School of Athens, by Raphael, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

So, encouraging everyone to search for good reasons promotes reason and respect.

In addition, the more we realize that some of our reasons for acting are not good reasons, the more likely we are to listen to other people’s reasons and tolerate their differences of opinion. (You might also like this post: Should We Tolerate Everything?)

Listening to others also encourages reason and respect.

Acting with reason and respect is indeed both wise and rare.

The good news is that the moment you decide you want to act with reason and respect, you are on the right path.

By the way, you might also like these posts:

Five Ways to Practice Critical Thinking
Developing Your Own Moral and Ethical Code
Treating People with Dignity—Even Mean, Ignorant Ones
A Tricky Thing about Rights

In addition, you might also enjoy the following books I have written to help people act with reason and respect in their everyday lives.

My books are The Argument Builder, The Discovery of Deduction (co-author), and Everyday Debate.

You can find these books at Classical Academic Press here.

And you can also order them from Amazon:

Everyday Debate (I recommend starting with this one.)

The Argument Builder

The Discovery of Deduction

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[1] Acting respectfully also means we a honor the dignity of other beings in the world, like of animals and the environment, in general.

But for the sake of simplicity, I focus on respecting humans in this post.

[2] Respecting people’s right to their own opinion doesn’t mean we agree with it or think it is good necessarily.

Rather, it means that we understand that people have to learn themselves how to act with reason and respect, and we must give them space to do this.

Certainly there are some limits to respecting people’s right to their opinion.

As an extreme example, there are people who believe cannibalism is an honorable lifestyle. Certainly we don’t permit people to act on this opinion and eat other people.

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