[FoRK] Lion, rationality, reason, and seriousness

Jeff Bone <jbone at place.org> on Fri May 4 20:56:58 PDT 2007

Lion:

A hopefully succinct, serious, non-flip, and semantically "chewy"  
response to several issues you seem to be wresting with.  (And btw,  
bravo for wresting with them in the first place.)

"Rationality" and the related concept of "reason" are both slippery  
eels.  I think you and I will agree on that.  The key insight, if  
any, that I have to offer on this fundamental problem is this:  both  
terms, both concepts, can *only* be understood in (each) one of two  
contexts:  macro and micro.  And each concept, in each context, has a  
different meaning, interpretation, analysis, theory...

It's unproductive to try to define, much less argue, either concept  
in a general sense.  "Rationality" can be defined precisely, even  
objectively, in terms of the actual outcome of a single individual's  
behavior --- if you know the individual's priors, i.e. preferences,  
beliefs, and assumptions.  (Even then it's difficult, as preferences  
etc. are so slippery and unquantifiable in themselves.)  In the  
larger sense, "rationality" can *provably* never be absolutely  
quantified --- cf. Arrow.  But making a few (individually reasonable)  
assumptions like Pareto optimality, finiteness (or lack thereof, or  
uncertainty thereof) of iteration of PD-like games, etc., then one  
can make macro assessments of the rationality of a group's behavior  
over time.

Economics, my man.  It's not the dismal science --- indeed, it's the  
only precise science that indeed admits the reality of human behavior.

Know it.  Live it.  Love it!

Cheers,

jb


PS - as for seriousness --- it's overrated.  A certain amount of  
levity is necessary to allow the meatware to contemplate the totally  
asinine behaviour of human beings on a regular basis, much less try  
to build models of it! 
  

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