Rationality

Rationality

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In philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, rationality is the exercise of reason
Reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

. It is the manner in which people derive conclusions when considering things deliberately. It also refers to the conformity of one's beliefs with one's reasons
Reason (argument)
In informal logic, a reason consists of either a single premise or co-premises in support of an argument. In formal symbolic logic, only single premises occur. In informal reasoning, two types of reasons exist. An evidential reason is a foundation upon which to believe that or why a claim is true...

 for belief, or with one's actions with one's reasons
Reason (argument)
In informal logic, a reason consists of either a single premise or co-premises in support of an argument. In formal symbolic logic, only single premises occur. In informal reasoning, two types of reasons exist. An evidential reason is a foundation upon which to believe that or why a claim is true...

 for action. However, the term "rationality" tends to be used in the specialized discussions of economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

, sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

, psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 and political science
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

. A rational decision is one that is not just reasoned, but is also optimal for achieving a goal or solving a problem. The term "rationality" is used differently in different disciplines.


Determining optimality for rational behavior requires a quantifiable formulation of the problem, and the making of several key assumptions. When the goal or problem involves making a decision, rationality factors in how much information is available (e.g. complete or incomplete knowledge
Knowledge
Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something unknown, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject...

). Collectively, the formulation and background assumptions are the model within which rationality applies. Illustrating the relativity of rationality: if one accepts a model in which benefiting oneself is optimal, then rationality is equated with behavior that is self-interested to the point of being selfish; whereas if one accepts a model in which benefiting the group is optimal, then purely selfish behavior is deemed irrational. It is thus meaningless to assert rationality without also specifying the background model assumptions describing how the problem is framed and formulated.

Theories of rationality


The German sociologist Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

 proposed an interpretation of social action that distinguished between four different types of rationality. The first, which he called Zweckrational or purposive/instrumental rationality
Instrumental rationality
Two views of instrumental rationality can be discerned in modern philosophy: one view comes from social philosophy, sociology and critical theory, whereas another comes from natural philosophy.-The view from critical theory and social philosophy:...

, 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
Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theory on the concepts of 'communicative rationality' and the 'public sphere'...

 (1984) perspective (as devoid of social context and under-theorised in terms of social power) 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. An alternative position on rationality (which includes both bounded rationality (Simons and Hawkins, 1949), as well as the affective and value-based arguments of Weber) can be found in the critique of Etzioni (1988), 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).

In the psychology of reasoning
Psychology of reasoning
The psychology of reasoning is the study of how people reason, often broadly defined as the process of drawing conclusions to inform how people solve problems and make decisions...

, psychologists and cognitive scientists have defended different positions on human rationality. One prominent view, due to Philip Johnson-Laird
Philip Johnson-Laird
Philip Johnson-Laird is a professor at Princeton University's Department of Psychology and author of several notable books on human cognition and the psychology of reasoning....

 and Ruth M.J. Byrne among others is that humans are rational in principle but they err in practice, that is, humans have the competence to be rational but their performance is limited by various factors

Quality of rationality


It is believed by some philosophers (notably A.C. Grayling) 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 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, for example an individual with a massively damaged amygdala
Amygdala
The ' are almond-shaped groups of nuclei located deep within the medial temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions, the amygdalae are considered part of the limbic system.-...

 or severe psychopathy. 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.

Theoretical and practical rationality


Kant
KANT
KANT is a computer algebra system for mathematicians interested in algebraic number theory, performing sophisticated computations in algebraic number fields, in global function fields, and in local fields. KASH is the associated command line interface...

 had distinguished theoretical from practical reason. Rationality theorist Jesús Mosterín
Jesús Mosterín
Jesús Mosterín is a leading Spanish philosopher and a thinker of broad spectrum, often at the frontier between science and philosophy.-Biography:He was born in Bilbao in 1941. He studied in Spain, Germany and the USA...

 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. 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. 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
Bayes estimator
In estimation theory and decision theory, a Bayes estimator or a Bayes action is an estimator or decision rule that minimizes the posterior expected value of a loss function . Equivalently, it maximizes the posterior expectation of a utility function...

, and a material component, rooted in human nature (lastly, in our genome).

Examples of Rationality Applied to Different Fields


Individuals or organization
Organization
An organization is a social group which distributes tasks for a collective goal. The word itself is derived from the Greek word organon, itself derived from the better-known word ergon - as we know `organ` - and it means a compartment for a particular job.There are a variety of legal types of...

s are called rational if they make optimal decisions in pursuit of their goals. It is in these terms that one speaks, for example, of a rational allocation of resources, or of a rational corporate strategy. For such "rationality", the decision maker's goals are taken as part of the model, and not made subject to criticism, ethical or otherwise.

Debates arise in these four 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
Bounded rationality
Bounded rationality is the idea that in decision making, rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision...

 makes more sense for such models.

Others think that any kind of rationality along the lines of rational choice theory
Rational choice theory
Rational choice theory, also known as choice theory or rational action theory, is a framework for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior. It is the main theoretical paradigm in the currently-dominant school of microeconomics...

 is a useless concept for understanding human behavior; the term homo economicus
Homo economicus
Homo economicus, or Economic human, is the concept in some economic theories of humans as rational and narrowly self-interested actors who have the ability to make judgments toward their subjectively defined ends...

(economic man: the imaginary man being assumed in economic models who is logically consistent but amoral) was coined largely in honor of this view.

Artificial Intelligence


Within artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...

, a rational agent
Intelligent agent
In artificial intelligence, an intelligent agent is an autonomous entity which observes through sensors and acts upon an environment using actuators and directs its activity towards achieving goals . Intelligent agents may also learn or use knowledge to achieve their goals...

is one that maximizes its expected utility, given its current knowledge. Utility is the usefulness of the consequences of its actions. The utility function is arbitrarily defined by the designer, but should be a function of performance, which is the directly measurable consequences, such as winning or losing money. In order to make a safe agent that plays defensively, a nonlinear function of performance is often desired, so that the reward for winning is lower than the punishment for losing. An agent might be rational within its own problem area, but finding the rational decision for arbitrarily complex problems is not practically possible. The rationality of human thought is a key problem in the psychology of reasoning
Psychology of reasoning
The psychology of reasoning is the study of how people reason, often broadly defined as the process of drawing conclusions to inform how people solve problems and make decisions...

.

Rationality and power


The relationship between rationality and political power was studied by Flyvbjerg (1998). He found that in real-life decision making rationality is context-dependent and the context of rationality is power. Thus power profoundly influences rationality, and what decision makers think of and present as rationality is often a rationalization of power positions, according to Flyvbjerg. In a paraphrase of Blaise Pascal, Flyvbjerg concludes that "power has a rationality that rationality does not know."

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
    Cristina Bicchieri
    Cristina Bicchieri is the S.J.P. Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics in the Philosophy Department at the University of Pennsylvania, and director of the Philosophy, Politics and Economics program. She is also a Professor in the Legal Sudies department of the Wharton School,...

     (1993). Rationality and Coordination, New York: Cambridge University Press
  • Cristina Bicchieri
    Cristina Bicchieri
    Cristina Bicchieri is the S.J.P. Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics in the Philosophy Department at the University of Pennsylvania, and director of the Philosophy, Politics and Economics program. She is also a Professor in the Legal Sudies department of the Wharton School,...

     (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
    The nature of rationality
    The Nature of Rationality is an exploration of practical rationality written by Robert Nozick and published in 1993. It views human rationality as an evolutionary adaptation...

    .
    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.
  • Johnson-Laird, P.N. & Byrne, R.M.J. (1991). Deduction. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.
  • Garcés M. (2009) Emotional Theory of Rationality, "Entertainment = Emotion" workshop, C.C Benasque, Spain http://www.benasque.org/2009emotion/papers/EmotionalTheoryofRationality_img.pdf