I always get amused by the phrase which crops up in arguments from time to time, to the effect that "you're just rationalizing it". In context, this means something quite negative, I suppose, but in my point of view, it describes everything. Let's grant for a moment that arguments which merely try to justify a result are rationalizations, and let's not focus on what "rationalizing" really means. Although this post seems to be about what the phrase "you're just rationalizing" 'really means', it's in fact about something altogether different. As Tweedledum observed in the Alice books (or was it Tweedledee?), the question in such matters is 'who is the master, you or the word?'. What I love about the phrase "you're just rationalizing" is the way it assumes that one way of looking at things is 'logical' or 'right', and that other ways of constructing the argument are just justifications or constructs. Now I tend to believe that there are absolute truths, and that the human condition includes a significant dose of trying to figure out a few of those truths. But my whimsy comes from the idea that anything we do is ever anything BUT rationalizing chaos into words. It's not that I believe that existence is all chaos. It's that I believe our instruments of science, heart and soul make it very difficult for us to do much but make crude approximations based on inadequate data. In this way, we are all merely "rationalizing", trying to give structure to what we see and feel as we go along.
This notion makes some folks awfully disconcerted. The fact that any ultimate conclusions about meanings and structure require either much faith or much rejection of insufficiently supported suppositiion seems to drag folks down tremendously. It's not hard to fathom why--we all want to feel as though things lace together, like Converse All-Star tennis shoes. This leads to those constructs, though, that one cannot be happy if one "really understands" what is going on. The theory goes that if one "really got it", then one would sink into despair.
I guess my take is different. It seems to me for good or for ill, we are biologically constructed that we need to have a sense of meaning. I don't mean in particular that we need to believe in God or any formulation of faith or fancy. I mean that in order to function our best as people, we have to feel that things mean something. Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist, wrote powerful books which used his experience in the concentration camps to posit that a sense of purpose is essential in life. Frankl's theories don't work for everyone, but in one critical respect I agree with him--
we must assume that life is more than anomie and chaos if we are to
function and keep on going. In this respect, the quest for inner health seems to me to include an acceptance that things must tie together somehow. It may be that the only "tie" is an acceptance that we are merely biological units in a universe governed by entropy about which we will never understand much (this is not my own view, by the way), but establishing a sort of working covenants about "why I'm here" with oneself seems to me to be important.
We've all known folks who are horribly deluded by notions and "faiths" and fancies that distort them from experiencing what we perceive to be "what is" in favor of mere fantasy. All of us slightly differ in how we define the boundaries of when this occurs, depending on our own faiths or faithlessnesses. But the thing that strikes me over and over is that the folks whose "rationalizations" convince them that life is hopeless do not do very well. Some of this is about chemical imbalance and other things within the realm of medicine (and beyond the ken of my narrow skills about which to post). But among the things we can control--in essence, our worldview--the extent to which we can make covenants about how life is to be lived in order to enable ourselves to get through the day, the better off we are, it seems to me.
Perhaps we must all "rationalize" our world(s) in one way or another. No faith explains everything, not even a faith that nothing makes sense. The question is not whether our inner arguments are "rationalizations", the question is whether our rationalizations make our lives work. I don't want to knock those whose inner "rationalizations" are based on the perception that there are very real external truths which they are trying to approximate. I feel myself pursuing this particular path, however flawed I may be in seeking it. But I do believe that whatever Creators or creations we may exist in (including the non-created ones that just "are"), each person ultimately, for health's sake, must "sub-create" a view of things that must keep life making sense.
When did it become so fashionable, for example, to denigrate those who just simply live their lives without a second thought? I grant you that on the negative end of this way of living, the 'good German' phenomenon can come into this, but there are people who live good lives simply because they cannot imagine that life is lived any other way . This "sub-creation", that people do good because it is "right", is very important. I myself am glad that I live a basically contented life, but how much more could I get done if I just had a bit more faith and a bit more in-bred discipline?
So I guess I'll smile a bit, and "rationalize" to myself that this is after all a pursuit of truth. I will rationalize that I am engaged in this pursuit, albeit in a flawed, side-road, very small way. I won't worry much that I must work to "rationalize" a bit of meaning to my life--I'll just remember how despondent people get when they feel they have lost the way. I haven't exactly found the way, or the Way, but I know I must keep searching for it. It's hard-wired, or something--or at least that's how I rationalize it.
In my church, we tend to look warily at people who reveal "the only truth". One of our many trite expressions is "you've got answers? We've got questions". But although many of us look warily at easy formulae for faith, this does not mean the search is not worth undertaking. Rather, I think the search is essential. But I also think it's essential to live one's life as if the search will be satisfactory--whether one ever finds all the answers or not. It's not that I claim any ultimate certainty that this isn't another "rationalization". It's that I think the rationalization is essential to our ability to function.
In my view, we are beings who live in a universe created by a God in which we have just begun to hunt for the first essences of the first slight glimmers of the initial hopes that we might someday get an idea of what is going on. We've only been at it for a few millenia, after all. But it doesn't really matter if my view is right--or dead, drastically wrong. What matters is that in order to function, we must assume we have a place, and that we must live to fulfill it. I am not sure why this is. But I believe this rationalization is essential to all we do.