Rationality and Unification

Unification copy

By Keisuke Noda

Keisuke_NodaThe idea of “Unification” is central to the Unification Movement. The current reality of the movement is that there is no clear path toward this ideal. This lack of a path, be it conceptual or real, is critical to a movement that carries the banner of “unification” both in doctrine and title.

This issue can be approached from various angles. I examine two types of “rationality,” instrumental and dialogical, and how they are tied to two different understandings of and approaches to “unification.” By highlighting the benefits of dialogical rationality and the type of unification associated with it, I call for further discussion of the idea of unification. This article makes a reference to Hans-Georg Gadamer’s “Philosophical Hermeneutics.”

Why Rationality?

“Rationality” is a key issue in philosophy. Why do we need to care about “rationality” in philosophy and otherwise? Reasoning supports the presentation of a case, justification of a claim, or the establishment of an argument. The question then is what type of reasoning is used, consciously or unconsciously. Whatever type of rationality is used guides the discourse at a most fundamental level, and is critical to understand what kind of reasoning dominates one’s process of thinking. When one solves math problems, for example, he or she may use calculative rationality; in making moral judgments, one may use “prudence,” which requires experience and a sense of balance.

Instrumental Rationality

What is the primary or even dominant rationality today? Martin Heidegger, Jürgen Habermas, and other thinkers identified it as “instrumental rationality.” They argue that instrumental rationality has been dominating discourse since modernity without our even being aware of it; that is, we use reason as an instrument to realize pre-set goals and purposes in the most efficient manner.

The instrumental use of reason is common in the technological era, which seeks efficiency and control. Its exclusive focus is gaining what you want in the most efficient and cost-effective way. This type of reasoning is efficient and effective in handling material. Modern technological developments and production were so successful, they argue, that we consciously or unconsciously adopted this type of reasoning in all spheres of life.

In modern organizations, this type of reasoning dominates in dealing with both customers and employees. In other words, it dominates all types of operations in society.

Instrumental rationality is pervasive. For example, even in religious organizations, which are meant to turn a materialistic society into a genuinely humane society, congregations and affiliates may be seen as “tools” to achieve certain goals. Yet, since this rationality is not reflective, it seldom critically examines the goals and its own assumptions. Whether the Unification Movement is immune from the influence of such tendency is an open question.

This type of reasoning is not effective for open discussion among parties who hold incompatible assumptions and beliefs. Gadamer, Habermas, and other thinkers thus presented “dialogical rationality” in contrast to “instrumental rationality.” Gadamer developed “philosophical hermeneutics” and Habermas developed a “theory of communicative action” as its model. They approached the issue from different perspectives, yet equally call for change (Gadamer argues from the perspective of his “Philosophical Hermeneutics”; Habermas from his “Theory of Communicative Action,” rooted in a critical theory and pragmatism).

Dialogical Rationality

Dialogical rationality is characterized by its openness. For example, two opposing positions may not agree on certain points. One side may have certain convictions and presuppositions, however, that party would try to listen to and understand the other. In order to understand the other, the self must reflect upon the framework of interpretation and be open to re-structuring his or her framework of understanding. In Gadamer’s terms, “understanding” takes place as the “fusion of horizons,” your horizon (framework of interpretation, constituted by beliefs and assumptions) and the horizon of the other party. Because the meaning of a claim arises from its relationship with the horizon (context), you must be open to the horizon of the other party as well as the issue at hand.


Philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002).

By contrast, the instrumental use of reason means that one either wins or loses an argument. There is no incentive to listening to and understanding the other, and critically examining one’s own beliefs. The purpose of a discussion is to defeat the other and win the argument, and reason is used as an instrument in this battle. “Unification” is thus understood as control, domination, or persuasion, and the center of discussion is you.

In dialogue, neither party is the center of the discussion. What matters is the truth. Both parties are open to truth, which is disclosed through dialogue. No one person takes an “infallible” stance. In dialogical rationality, truth is understood as a “happening” or an “occurrence” defined as “disclosure” (Heidegger defined truth as Greek aletheia, “laying bare” or “unconcealment” in contrast to the popular concept of truth as correspondent of ideas and reality; Gadamer also held this concept of truth).

Interpretation necessarily underlies human understanding. The way to process your ideas, intuition, even “revelation” (given in images and symbols) is interpretive. Language and concepts are confined by social and cultural historical contexts. Gadamer argues that no interpretation is possible without historical heritage. Understanding texts is a dialogue between reader and text, where truth is disclosed and guides the process. Similarly, a dialogue between people is a dialogical process, wherein you experience the emergence of truth. For dialogical reasoning, “unification” can be an agreement for continuous dialogue, if not consensus in content; or integration of two opposite poles in a dialectical tension, seeking a higher ground of integration; a dynamic process rather than a static state.


Philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) explained his concept of truth in reference to Vincent Van Gogh’s “Pair of Shoes” (1885) in The Origin of the Work of Art.

From Correctness to Meaningfulness

In dialogical reasoning, the focus shifts from “correctness” to “meaning.” To illustrate this point, Gadamer contrasted the experience of art with that of science. Poetry, for example, discloses truth not in terms of its “correctness” but its “meaning.” Hermeneutic truth does not rest on correctness but on profound meaning. While an element of “correctness” is always present in judgment, a shift of focus is necessary in order to be open to others and the truth.

The Idea of “Unification”

What is “unification”? Is it a type of “subjugation” or “persuasion” (a soft form of “subjugation” or “control”) or even “domination” of the other based on your “infallible” beliefs? Or is it an effort to find a common ground for greater integration? Integration or even a productive dialogue is not easy among competing groups, be they religious or non-religious.

The task of Unificationism is, I argue, to make serious efforts to develop a workable model of “Unification.” Organizational conflicts in reality are due to a mixture of theological differences, power struggles, group pressures, economic interests, and resentment generated by past struggles. In the Unification Movement, various efforts were made to build bridges among groups including interreligious activities, conferences, International Sisterhood Ceremonies, Religious Youth Seminars, and others. Even the Unificationist concept of marriage was interreligious-cultural-racial marriage. In spite of those endeavors, a conceptual model for “unification” has not been worked out.

When reason is placed under power, it can easily become a tool for ideological manipulation. Instrumental reason is good for technological control but not for dialogue. In order to develop a workable model for “unification,” we need to liberate ourselves from the dominant use of reason as a tool and shift to a dialogical rationality.♦

Dr. Keisuke Noda is Professor of Philosophy at UTS. He has taught courses in philosophy, ethics and Unification Thought at UTS since 1996, as well as been a senior lecturer of Unification Thought at Unification Thought Institutes both in the U.S. and Japan since 1972. He earned his B.E. in applied physics from Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan; M.L.S. from the Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences at Queens College; and M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from the New School for Social Research.

14 thoughts on “Rationality and Unification

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  1. A good read, albeit with an inherent and gaping loophole perhaps best contained in the question: Is God a philosopher?

    It would seem to me that such a conceptual “working out” and “liberation” (God, us, others?) is an endless pursuit, hence, shifting conceptual approach to conceptual approach still leaves any “reality” of God apart.

    But this all does describe, fairly well, the constant dilemma among organizations (religious, political, economic, etc.) — with a more or less unspoken salute to some of my favorite philosophers on the subject of meaning, including Frankl, Solzhenitsyn and Moon.

    Can human beings work together to resolve, once and for all time, the “liberation of God” and/or simply define the great underlying problem of our existence and its ripple effects upon the universe?

    1. Thank you for your comment that raises important questions. I took up the issue of rationality for this article. A larger question, which is a dispute between Gadamer and Habermas, is the limit and role of rationality itself. Understanding is, in my view, hermeneutic synthesis of the conceptual and the experiential (including revelation, intuition, embodiment, and others). Understanding is, as I understand it, a circular process (the conceptual and the experiential; the parts and the whole; the pre-knowledge and the issue. A hermeneutic approach can incorporate meaning-based approaches such as Frankl’s you referred to.

      As for the faith and reason issue, I hold that the rational dimension is indispensable. If competing groups claim their “final ground” on some “conviction” (by faith) by renouncing rationality, dialogue is impossible; by accepting rational self-critique as precondition, authentic dialog can begin.

      1. Thank you for your response. We seem to basically agree on the process of understanding as well as dialogue, but require more work on coming to some greater consonance on what actually underpins such, fundamentally.

        Your comment on the faith and reason issue is interesting and likely true in many cases; however, based on my own current rational self-critique, I remain fairly ensconced within the dimension of the intuitive.

        Which makes me think I simply agree wholeheartedly with your opening/concluding/ongoing thesis on “shift[ing] to a dialogical rationality.”

        Strange, the way words themselves, multidimensional, too often get misinterpreted.

  2. Rationality is a good discussion topic. Instrumental rationality is the type of reasoning for attaining an end. This can be a good end or a bad end. We are used to experiencing instrumental rationality based on selfish ends that don’t consider others. However, dialogue, whether with others or the natural world, provides learning. In this sense, dialogue is a form of feedback mechanism.

    I’m glad that you highlighted the problem of power. Nearly all political rhetoric is about power and thus often about manipulating others through government policy. When the U.S. promotes its “strategic interests” in the world it alienates people in other countries the same way. In economics, monopoly is a form of power, and products are usually shoddier and more expensive than in competitive markets because the producer does not have to dialog with the consumer.

    When two parties, like Republicans representing Wall Street and Democrats representing labor unions, negotiate their interests, the middle class is ignored because it is a third party not involved in the dialog. Similarly of Catholics and Lutherans in dialogue, there is no guarantee the outcome will be closer to the truth than Buddhism, which is an uninvolved third party. Thus dialogical logic may not represent the interests of all — the interest of “God” in Unificationism? — unless all interests are represented.

    Does a dialogical understanding of all selfish interests lead to truth? I think a better way to approach complex systems is what we might call “systems rationality.” A clock is not designed by aggregating the interests of the gears, hands, and weights, but by determining a purpose, e.g., telling time. Then all the parts are assigned roles to play in the system. This necessarily limits their freedom — this might be very hard for people to hear unless one of the main goals of the social system is freedom — yet from a social systems view, distributive economic justice and freedom are mutually exclusive principles if one is taken uncompromisingly to the extreme at the expense of others. Thus, in a complex social system, there are principled limits that cannot be transgressed, without causing harm or oppression to others.

    1. Thanks for articulating the issue in the political sphere. It is true that competing groups do not care about having a dialog without some incentives including self-interest. As you noted, “dialogue” is usually a political tool to realize the common interests of participating groups. My hope is modest. Within the same faith communities at least, I am hoping to see a sign of authentic dialogue. If a religious community/organization cannot establish the necessary conditions (self-critique and openness) for authentic dialogue, the authenticity of its religiosity will be questioned.

      On an organizational level, a critical function can be implemented by incorporating some systematic mechanism such as checks and balances. Yet, without genuine commitment to establish a self-sustaining healthy organization, a check-and-balance mechanism is again manipulated or compromised. For religious organizations, I think, the issue comes down to the question of “authentic religiosity.”

  3. Thank you, Dr. Noda. Unification needs to have a pre-determined heavenly object though, I believe; that object, I understand, is the Divine Principle, True Parents, and various aspects of traditional Korean culture as we heard these three being uplifted and explained on numerous occasions by True Father. Of course, true heart and true love need to be applied to achieve unification. Interpretation of the value and understanding of these three is perhaps what you are referring to when you write about instrumental and dialogical rationality. How does mentioning the two aspects bring us closer to Unification, though?

    1. Frans, the thesis of my article is modest. It is not about what material contents (faith) should be upheld or so. I think the question is if the claim can stand the test of authenticity. We can approach the issue from various angles. Rationality is one of them.

  4. Yes, some of these skills of dialogical rationality and openness to listening are taught in the counseling professions. Reflective listening, which is stating what one has heard and offering that to the speaker, is a listening skill that shows the listener is truly listening and wants to affirm the intention of the speaker.

    Then, in healthy argumentation, there is first forming an agreement or conceding to what is held in common and/or what can be confirmed by the listener as a way of bonding and establishing rational, non-threatening dialogue. Then, on that foundation, there can be healthy assertion of what is different and/or true for a person. A both/and approach can affirm that different aspects are valid, but that neither has to negate the other. A listener who wants to just affirm what has been shared can say, “I hear that you mean this____ and that it is important to you” with or without qualification or additions.

    A good resource for interfaith dialogue is “The Decalogue of Dialogue” put out by a Temple University professor and it is listed on the Internet. To me, I think this discussion creates more meaning when applied to actual life situations and interactions. In the abstract notional realms alone, it loses some of the vitalness that comes from interpersonal interaction and living life. So, I guess that is what is meant by Applied Unificationism, rather than philosophical abstraction of theoretical ideas by themselves.

    1. Thank you for your comment. It is greatly appreciated. I want to clarify the merit of “abstract” theories (as a defense of philosophy).

      Theories in a specific domain such as Communication and Counseling Theory are designed for particular tasks/areas of social life. Philosophy deals with fundamental principles that shape social, historical, and personal life. Although it sounds abstract, it can change and even manipulate entire society. Consider Marx, John Locke (democracy), even Nazism, Juche ideology (North Korea). A critique of each theory has to go down to the principle level, thus it becomes abstract.

      Some think abstract theory has nothing to do with real life. The truth is the other way around. Although they are not visible, theories at the principle level structure how a society operates. For example, “quants” (quantitative analysts — physicists, mathematicians — hired by Wall Street) developed quantitative analysis theories including financial risk management, and changed the way global finance operates (arguably, some quants may be responsible for the 2007-08 financial crises). Theories of physics are abstract. But they are the backbone of the entire technological development of society.

      If the UM aims at fundamental changes in society, critical analysis at the most fundamental level is required. The task of Applied Unificationism needs to include, for the above reason, the critical analysis of Unificationism at the level of fundamental principle.

      1. Yes, that is a valid and important point. At the base of every statement and argument/viewpoint are premises and belief systems. I find philosophy to be not only useful in identifying these premises, but it is a really engaging “sport” in language and an art form in itself of creative intellectual activity; all that to say, as you remind us, that serious consequences are often the result of major philosophies purported by thinkers that influence society.

        One of my favorite thinkers is 19th century Cardinal John Henry Newman, who was a philosopher of sorts. In his “Grammar of Assent,” he discusses the “faculties of the mind.” It is his argument that the whole person lives by belief systems and premises that have an abstract notional base, but that what gives conviction to these belief systems is not just the abstraction of principle but the experience and emotions of the person. In other words, if we just adhere to an abstract notional thought, it will have no real import or impact on ourselves or others without our emotions behind it. And, of course without adequate experience to create an emotional content (emotional life), we are but dead men…excuse me, we are but dead people.

        In this respect, Newman resonates with Unification Thought which posits that the Divine Character consists of Heart (emotion), Intellect and Will. Voila the whole person! So, if I believe in God because it is a just and rational belief, that is good. However, without experience of God that creates an emotional level of heart, I cannot deeply convince others. Instead, our belief without emotional depth would exist in a rather cool and abstract notional realm. It would be like having the pieces and strategy of a chessboard outlined without the mind and heart of the player to drive the moves.

  5. It should be noted that Gadamer’s personal attempt to engage Jacques Derrida, an important figure in the “deconstruction” movement in philosophy, failed miserably, presumably for lack of sufficient common ground, showing the limitation of “dialogical reasoning” on a practical level. The Unification movement would seem to be sadly stuck in a similar impasse!

    1. A good point. I want, however, to clarify the distinction between scholarly disputes and “dialogue.”

      Debates between Gadamer and Derrida are not a “dialogue” in the ordinary sense. They are theoretical disputes between scholars. Their face-to-face “dialogue” is only a step among a series of disputes they published in books and articles. The Gadamer-Habermas debate is another well-known dispute. Their dispute was about the conditions to make authentic communication/dialogue possible. They all agree with the critique of modernity and understand the disputes as a part of normal scholarly activities.

      Scholarly disputes are conducted with mutual respect without any agenda/interests or grudge. In this respect, the above disputes were fruitful. The disagreement between Gadamer and Derrida has nothing to do with the question of the validity of “dialogical rationality.”

  6. Your article is quite interesting and points to hot subjects and lays hands on open wounds. It is quite complex and difficult to respond without exceeding the limits of a comment. I only pinpoint some issues, highlighting your quotes for easier reading.

    I enjoy philosophy a lot and studied practical philosophy in Munich in the 1980’s. Some sentences have a theory, analysis and conclusion in short words and perhaps need further elucidation on your part, so that readers can understand. E.g., “Hermeneutic truth does not rest on correctness but on profound meaning.” While an element of “correctness” is always present in judgment, a shift of focus is necessary in order to be open to others and the truth”.

    “Dialogical Rationality”: You mention in that section: “you must be open to the horizon of the other party as well as the issue at hand”, and “two opposite poles in a dialectical tension, seeking a higher ground of integration; a dynamic process rather than a static state”. This is interesting, because in the UPF approach, faith leaders are integrated for the cause of unity, perhaps as opposed to “taking” (vereinnahmen) the same point of view. Faith leaders have their firm grounds of belief up to the point that many think dialogue is impossible. The greatness of True Parents is that they enable dialogue, sometimes including new rational ways of thinking that challenge conventional beliefs. E.g., when you remember the peace conference in Israel in 2003 and the role the cross plays in making this unity between the three great faiths comfortable, it is quite amazing.

    In my view, it is impossible to refrain from one’s own view in dialogue as argued in this section, if so then there is a danger of falsehood, because the participants will return to their belief after departing from “dialogical rationality”. Unity in diversity is much better. Working together for a common goal, like the environment, human rights, etc. In the course one cannot exclude reason and step by step we get closer.

    “From Correctness to Meaningfulness. ” I would argue that in God both exist in oneness. The Idea of “Unification” you write: “In spite of those endeavors, a conceptual model for “unification” has not been worked out…. ” Perhaps concrete models as you mentioned earlier are superior. Even though the concept is being laid out in the Three Blessings. To restore them, the obstacles of race, culture and language need to be overcome; the most profound way is to marry a partner from a different culture or an enemy country. The path to unification is outlined in DP and in UT. You can see actual efforts in working in this direction in the daily activities of True Parents. Critical is the response and unpredictable is the human portion of responsibility.

    To understand Gadamer, Habermas and Heidegger correctly, one needs to understand their background and the society they lived in, because they cannot free themselves of what is called “instrumental” rationality. E.g., Habermas was a member of the “Frankfurter Schule” which was in ideological war with existing capitalistic society in the 1970’s. Gadamer had no problem to take the positions of Jewish scholars at universities in Nazi Germany and was well-respected by the Nazis. One could argue that he used the idea of dialogical rationalism to justify his shift from being a Nazi to become a good democratic citizen.

    UT is quite persuasive, because it describes existing problems, compares itself with competing philosophies, makes clear in the process why Diamat, Histomat and the Capital — in short Marxism — has dominated the ideological and philosophical world until the arrival of UT and VOC (“Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kommt aber darauf an sie zu verändern” [K. Marx]. Something on that even DP in its Introduction agrees on). By comparing, using largely logical reasoning, the power of UT becomes evident. The reasoning is based on Godism which absorbs all meaningful thought systems in oneness, transcending time and space.

    1. Thank you for your insightful remark and exploration of the issue. Besides the political “scandal” of Heidegger, I want to point out how dialogical rationality is rooted in the whole hermeneutic tradition.

      In hermeneutics, it is widely recognized that “understanding” (interpretation) is a circular process of part-and-whole (words and the language as the whole; language and the social-cultural lifeworld as its context; issue and one’s worldview as the horizon, etc.), and past (heritage) – present (attention) – future (anticipation), and others. For example, without understanding words in a given language, we do not understand the language, but we do not understand the words without understanding the language (how words are used; syntax). Understanding is, thus, carried out by entering into this circular process. In DP/UT context, it is conceptualized as the principle of give-and-take and circularity of truth.

      The article is an attempt to distill fundamental issues from sensitive matters in reality. As you pointed out, thinkers developed their thoughts by overcoming themselves. I think it applies to any individual/organization/institution. “The snake that cannot slough its skin, perishes.” (Nietzsche, Daybreak, Aphorism 573)

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