Rationality: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In philosophy, rationality and reason are the key methods used to analyze the data gathered through systematically gathered observations. In economics, sociology, and political science, a decision or situation is often called rational if it is in some sense optimal, and individuals or organizations are often called rational if they tend to act somehow optimally in pursuit of their goals. Thus one speaks, for example, of a rational allocation of resources, or of a rational corporate strategy. In this concept of "rationality", the individual's goals or motives are taken for granted and not made subject to criticism, ethical or otherwise. Thus, rationality simply refers to the success of goal attainment, whatever those goals may be. Sometimes, in this context, rationality is equated with behavior that is self-interested to the point of being selfish. Sometimes rationality implies having complete knowledge about all the details of a given situation.

Debates arise in these three fields about whether or not people or organizations are "really" rational, as well as whether it make sense to model them as such in formal models. Some have argued that a kind of bounded rationality makes more sense for such models. Others think that any kind of rationality along the lines of rational choice theory is a useless concept for understanding human behavior; the term homo economicus (economic man: the imaginary man being assumed in economic models who is logically consistent but amoral) was coined largely in honor of this view.

Rationality is a central principle in artificial intelligence, where a rational agent is specifically defined as an agent which always chooses the action which maximises its expected performance, given all of the knowledge it currently possesses.


Quality of Rationality

It is believed by some philosophers (notably A.C. Grayling) and experts, that a good rationale must be independent of emotions, personal feelings or any kind of instincts. Any process of evaluation or analysis, that may be called rational, is expected to be highly objective, logical and "mechanical". If these minimum requirements are not satisfied i.e. if a person has been, even slightly, influenced by personal emotions, feelings, instincts or culturally specific, moral codes and norms, then the analysis may be termed irrational, due to the injection of subjective bias.

It is quite evident from modern cognitive science and neuroscience, studying the role of emotion in mental function (including topics ranging from flashes of scientific insight to making future plans), that no human has ever satisfied this criterion, except perhaps a person with no affective feelings perhaps a with a massively damaged amygdala. Thus, such an idealized form of rationality is best exemplified by computers, and not people. However, scholars may productively appeal to the idealization as a point of reference.

Theories of rationality

The German sociologist Max Weber proposed an interpretation of social action that distinguished between four different types of rationality. The first, which he called Zweckrational or purposive/instrumental rationality, is related to the expectations about the behavior of other human beings or objects in the environment. These expectations serve as means for a particular actor to attain ends, ends which Weber noted were "rationally pursued and calculated." The second type, Weber called Wertrational or value/belief-oriented. Here the action is undertaken for what one might call reasons intrinsic to the actor: some ethical, aesthetic, religious or other motive, independent of whether it will lead to success. The third type was affectual, determined by an actor's specific affect, feeling, or emotion - to which Weber himself said that this was a kind of rationality that was on the borderline of what he considered "meaningfully oriented." The fourth was traditional, determined by ingrained habituation. Weber emphasized that it was very unusual to find only one of these orientations: combinations were the norm. His usage also makes clear that he considered the first two as more significant than the others, and it is arguable that the third and fourth are subtypes of the first two. These kinds of rationality were ideal types.

The advantage in this interpretation is that it avoids a value-laden assessment, say, that certain kinds of beliefs are irrational. Instead, Weber suggests that a ground or motive can be given – for religious or affect reasons, for example — that may meet the criterion of explanation or justification even if it is not an explanation that fits the Zweckrational orientation of means and ends. The opposite is therefore also true: some means-ends explanations will not satisfy those whose grounds for action are 'Wertrational'.

Weber's constructions of rationality have been critiqued both from a Habermasian (1984) perspective (as devoid of social context and under-theorised in terms of social power)[1] and also from a feminist perspective (Eagleton, 2003) whereby Weber's rationality constructs are viewed as imbued with masculine values and oriented toward the maintenance of male power[2]. An alternative position on rationality (which includes both bounded rationality (Simons and Hawkins, 1949)[3], as well as the affective and value-based arguments of Weber) can be found in the critique of Etzioni (1988)[4], who reframes thought on decision-making to argue for a reversal of the position put forward by Weber. Etzioni illustrates how purposive/instrumental reasoning is subordinated by normative considerations (ideas on how people 'ought' to behave) and affective considerations (as a support system for the development of human relationships).

Theoretical and practical rationality

Kant had distinguished theoretical from practical reason. Rationality theorist Jesús Mosterín makes a parallel distinction between theoretical and practical rationality, although, according to him, reason and rationality are not the same: reason would be a psychological faculty, whereas rationality is an optimizing strategy.[5] Humans are not rational by definition, but they can think and behave rationally or not, depending on whether they apply, explicitly or implicitly, the strategy of theoretical and practical rationality to the thoughts they accept and to the actions they perform. Theoretical rationality has a formal component that reduces to logical consistency and a material component that reduces to empirical support, relying on our inborn mechanisms of signal detection and interpretation. Mosterín distinguishes between involuntary and implicit belief, on the one hand, and voluntary and explicit acceptance, on the other. [6] Theoretical rationality can more properly be said to regulate our acceptances than our beliefs. Practical rationality is the strategy for living one’s best possible life, achieving your most important goals and your own preferences in as far as possible. Practical rationality has also a formal component, that reduces to Bayesian decision theory, and a material component, rooted in human nature (lastly, in our genome).

Use of the term rational

In a number of kinds of speech, "rational" may also denote a hodge-podge of generally positive attributes, including:

  • reasonable: "having sound judgment and practical implementation" (Webster's)
  • reasonable: "not extreme or excessive" (Webster's)
  • justifiable on the basis of ...reason. (logical)
  • economical, not wasteful ("rational management," "to rationalize" something)
  • not foolish
  • coherent

Rationality and psychotherapy

The term rational is often used in psychotherapy and the concept of rationality is especially known in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy originated and developed by American psychologist Albert Ellis. In this approach, the term rational is used in a slightly different way than in general. Here rationality is defined contextually as the constructive tendency and leaning that humans have to acts, emote and think in ways that are alternative-seeking, realistic, flexible and most importantly self- and social-helping and functional in helping humans in achieving their personal and social goals and desires[7].

See also


  1. ^ Habermas, J. (1984) The Theory of Communicative Action Volume 1; Reason and the Rationalization of Society, Cambridge: Polity Press.
  2. ^ Eagleton, M. (ed) (2003) A Concise Companion to Feminist Theory, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
  3. ^ Simons, H. and Hawkins, D. (1949), “Some Conditions in Macro-Economic Stability”, Econometrica, 1949.
  4. ^ Etzioni, A. (1988), “Normative-Affective Factors: Towards a New Decision-Making Model”, Journal of Economic Psychology, Vol. 9, pp. 125-150.
  5. ^ Mosterín, Jesús (2008). Lo mejor posible: Racionalidad y acción humana. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 2008. 318 pp. ISBN 978-84-206-8206-8.
  6. ^ Mosterín, Jesús (2002). “Acceptance Without Belief”. Manuscrito, vol. XXV , pp. 313-335.
  7. ^ Ellis, Albert (2001). Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors: New Directions for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Promotheus Books.

External links and references

  • What is rationality?
  • Reason and Rationality, by Richard Samuels, Stephen Stich, Luc Faucher on the broad field of reason and rationality from descriptive, normative, and evaluative points of view
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Historicist Theories of Rationality
  • Legal Reasoning After Post-Modern Critiques of Reason, by Peter Suber
  • Spohn, W. (2002). The Many Facets of the Theory of Rationality. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 2: 247-262.
  • Cristina Bicchieri (1993). Rationality and Coordination, New York: Cambridge University Press
  • Cristina Bicchieri (2007). “Rationality and Indeterminacy”, in D. Ross and H. Kinkaid (eds.) The Handbook of Philosophy of Economics, The Oxford Reference Library of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, vol. 6, n.2.
  • Anand, P (1993). Foundations of Rational Choice Under Risk, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Habermas, J. (1984) The Theory of Communicative Action Volume 1; Reason and the Rationalization of Society, Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Mosterín, Jesús (2008). Lo mejor posible: Racionalidad y acción humana. Madrid: Alianza Editorial. 318 pp. ISBN 978-84-206-8206-8.
  • Nozick, Robert (1993). The Nature of Rationality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Eagleton, M. (ed) (2003) A Concise Companion to Feminist Theory, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Simons, H. and Hawkins, D. (1949), “Some Conditions in Macro-Economic Stability”, Econometrica, 1949.


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From Wikiquote

Quotes about logic, rationality, and logical fallacies.



Logic and rationality

  • Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence.
  • Logic hasn't wholly dispelled the society of witches and prophets and sorcerers and soothsayers.
  • Logic is a large drawer, containing some useful instruments, and many more that are superfluous. A wise man will look into it for two purposes, to avail himself of those instruments that are really useful, and to admire the ingenuity with which those that are not so, are assorted and arranged.
  • Logic is one thing and commonsense another.
  • The want of logic annoys. Too much logic bores. Life eludes logic, and everything that logic alone constructs remains artificial and forced.
  • Logic, like whiskey, loses its beneficial effect when taken in too large quantities.
    • Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, "Weeds & Moss", My Ireland
  • Metaphysics may be, after all, only the art of being sure of something that is not so, and logic only the art of going wrong with confidence.
    • Joseph Wood Krutch, The Modern Temper (1929)
  • These, briefly, are the key elements of the stereotype: logic cripples and constrains; it forces one into narrow and mechanical modes of thought that cut one off from a vast range of superior thoughts, feelings and perceptions; logic is an enemy of wit and humor (Mr. Spock's face was always an impassive mask); logic makes us dull and pedantic (Mr. Spock always spoke in a monotone); logic presupposes a simple-minded, black-and-white, yes-no conception of the world. ... Logic misses the point of half the things we ordinarily say and cannot match the insight of the humblest person's common sense.
    • John M. Dolan, Inference and Imagination
  • One cannot use one's logic to explain actions driven by others' logic.
    • Sir. Acel Quailin KBE
  • Logic and mathematics seem to be the only domains where self-evidence manages to rise above triviality; and this it does, in those domains, by a linking of self-evidence on to self-evidence in the chain reaction known as proof.
  • "Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."
  • ...logicians tell us that a system of ideas containing a contradiction can be used to deduce any statement whatsoever, no matter how absurd.
    • What is Your Dangerous Idea? (2007), John Brockman, ed., "Introduction," Steven Pinker, p. xxix
  • "Listen, Learn, Logic"
    • (2009), Steven Schaerer, Chemist

Logical fallacies

Appeal to authority

  • This fallacy [appeal to authority] is not in itself an error; it is impossible to learn much in today’s world without letting somebody else crunch the numbers and offer us explanations. And teachers are sources of necessary information. But how we choose our "authorities" and place a value on such information, is just another skill rarely taught in our education systems. It’s little wonder that to most folk, sound bites and talking heads are enough to count as experts. […] Teaching is reinforcing the appeal to authority, where anybody who seems more intelligent than you must ultimately be right. […] We educators must simply role-model critical thinking. […] Educators themselves have to be prepared to show that “evidence” and “answers” are two separate things by firmly believing that, themselves.
    • Mike McRae, Australian teacher and guest columnist, "Educating Future Critical Thinkers", Swift: Online Newsletter of the JREF, 31 March 2006


  • A good notation has a subtlety and suggestiveness which at times make it seem almost like a live teacher... ~ Bertrand Russell
  • A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It cuts the hand that wields it. ~ Rabindranath Tagore
  • ... all traits of reality worthy of the name can be set down in an idiom of this form if in any idiom. ~ Willard van Orman Quine
  • If the world were a logical place, men would ride side saddle. ~ Rita Mae Brown
  • Instinct leads, logic does but follow. — William James
  • Logic: The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding. ~ Ambrose Bierce
  • No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical. ~ Niels Bohr
  • Roughly speaking: to say of two things that they are identical is nonsense, and to say of one thing that it is identical with itself is to say nothing. ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • All men are mortal. Socrates was mortal. Therefore, all men are Socrates. ~ Woody Allen
  • If you can't tell logical reasoning from brainwashing, you might get brainwashed. If you can, you might have already been brainwashed. ~

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:
Look up logic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

Simple English

Rationality is the state that exists when reason is used. It's also related to moderation in some contexts and sensibility in others.

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