Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why be rational?

Philosophers often ask the question "Why be moral?" Is there a parallel question "Why be rational."

Now, if we shouldn't be rational, I'm probably at least going to try, anyway. But can rationality be rationally justified?

11 comments: said...

That's just not rational!


Tim said...

If I prefer truth to falsehood -- and what philosopher would not give at least lip service to that preference? -- then I had better try.

Doctor Logic said...

No. Rationality cannot be rationally justified. Being rational is a bias. A pro-rational bias, but a bias nonetheless.

Nor can the mechanics of rationality be justified without circularity.

When I try to convince a person of a conclusion using a rational argument, I'm relying on two things about that person. First, I'm relying on that person's ability to perform the rational mechanics. Second, I'm relying on that person's rational bias - his desire or compulsion to use his rational faculties, and his ability to overwhelm his anti-rational biases that would cause him to believe things irrationally.

Shackleman said...

Given materialism, what does "rationality" even mean?

Hiero5ant said...

Rationality is simply another behavior that certain phyla with a central nervous system engage in, like digestion is a behavior and running is a behavior.

I wouldn't ask whether "digestion can itself be digested", or whether running can be ran, and for similar reasons I don't find the quest for a justification of justification to be a fruitful enterprise.

Who was it who said that asking for a justification of justification is like expecting the answers to "what constitutes a legal chess move" or "why should I care about chess" to themselves constitute legal chess moves?

reborn1995 said...


Linda Zagzebski is writing a book (i'm currently taking the seminar) where she claims that subconsciously or unawares the mind already tries to resolve various senses of disonnance. And rationality just is doing what your mind already does, but doing it reflectively or conscientiously. (This is really a passing point in her work; the book is actually actually arguing for the legitimacy of epistemic authority.)


Anonymous said...

Why ought God be rational?

Bobcat said...

Let's say someone asks "why should I be rational?" sincerely.

It seems to me that anyone who does that is looking for a reason to be rational.

But to say of someone that he's looking for a reason to conduct himself in a certain way, or to believe a certain proposition, is also to say of him that he presupposes that in order for it to be the case that he endorse something, he have a reason to endorse it.

In other words, he seems to be committed to the proposition, "one should not do things or believe things unless one has reasons for doing or believing them".

Now, what is it to be rational?

There are two senses of this: there's a descriptive sense (e.g., human beings are rational beings) and a normative sense (Peter is acting rationally).

If you're asking "why should I be rational?" you must be talking about rationality in the normative sense.

If you're talking about rationality in the normative sense, then that kind of rationality is something like this: "a being is rational if it tries to act and believe things on the basis of what it takes to be the best reasons available to it".

But if that's what it is to act rationally, then it seems like anyone who is concerned about why he should act rationally wants to know what the best reason is for why he ought to act on the basis of the best reasons available to him.

Thus, anyone who asks that question sincerely is already committed to rationality.

I'm sure this argument is bad, but it seems like something in the vicinity could work.

Gregory said...

Doctor Logic wrote:

"No. Rationality cannot be rationally justified. Being rational is a bias. A pro-rational bias, but a bias nonetheless."

I believe he has made a good point. However, if we can take "rationality" as a brute given, then why can't we take "God" as a brute given? Therefore, Christians are not under any kind of "epistemic obligation" (i.e. the "burden-of-proof" argument) to provide evidence and reason to skeptics if they (i.e. skeptics), themselves, refuse to own up to their own standard.

awatkins69 said...

Aristotle: "If you ought to philosophize you ought to philosophize; and if you ought not to philosophize you ought to philosophize: therefore, in any case you ought to philosophize. For if philosophy exists, we certainly ought to philosophize, since it exists; and if it does not exist, in that case too we ought to inquire why philosophy does not exist -- and by inquiring we philosophize; for inquiry is the cause of philosophy."

Blaise Pascal said...

Why should I be rational or moral? Because I would be stupid or depraved if I wasnt. BTW I dont think one can be rational if he is not moral.