Now it is time for my second post on rationality. In my previous post I confined myself to our immediate notions of rationality and economic rationality. I concluded, for a number of reasons, that it can be problematic to say that we are economically rational. The difficulties I explored primarily did not pertain to actual human behavior, but rather difficulties with actually specifying what it means to act as a pleasure maximizer in the way economic theory describes. In saying this I will note two things. First, I do not think most economists argue that economic rationality is how humans think, rather, I think most consider it a model that can be quite effective in predicting large scale patterns of behavior. Second, there are a lot of economists, and a lot of work has been undoubtedly done on the problems I have raised. That being said, I shall now progress on to to more holistic or thick philosophical
interpretations of rationality.
The initial question that promoted these two posts was ‘are we rational?’. This question is relatively straight forward when it comes to economic rationality: the question is whether we act to maximize our well-being. When we get into other kinds of rationality, however, answering the initial question becomes much more complex. For if we take theories of rationality such as those made by Kant or Hegel, rationality becomes a property of persons proper: we are defined by our rationality. The question ‘are we rational?’ thus becomes a tautology, for the ‘we’ encompasses only rational beings. This draws out an interesting feature of colloquial accusations of ‘irrationality’. When we call someone irrational in every-day conversation, I think the accusation that is meant is that the individual is failing to exercise their capacities as a person: they are not reasoning or perceiving properly. However, I am not sure that this is actually an accusation we can lodge against another person, for such an accusation only makes sense if the action is within the realm of the accused’s control. For only a rational being can deliberate over their actions, and any aspect of a being that falls outside its rational field is impervious to criticism. Basically I am trying to say that to the extent someone’s actions are truly irrational, it is nonsensical to criticize them because criticism assumes that alternative action was possible. Colloquial accusations of irrationality thus becomes instead some other kind of accusation: maybe the accusation is that someone did not properly deliberate, or that they are improperly weighing evidence. There is an interesting way that this accusation ties back to economic rationality in that accusations of irrationality are often judgements that an individual is acting contrary to their own interests. This necessitates conceptions of universal interests which we should all pursue.
This is the extent to which I am able to explore rationality at this present date. Let me know what you think.
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