Rationality in Policy: How and Why
There was a brief but intense debate on rationality in April 2007, on the listserv of the Millennium Project.
Here I include:
The email from Tofig Mehdiyev of
(2) My reply, in which I outline a more balanced notion of rationality as an alternative;
(3) A brief final comment from Arnoldo de Hoyos.
(1) Mehdiyev’s plea ------------------------------------------------
At 08:00 AM 04/13/2007, Tofig Mehdiyev wrote:
The article about Pope's speech (www.timesonline.co.uk,
March 27, >> >2007) once again
demonstrates that people usually disguise their actions
with the good words, that there are no full conformity between the words and actions forever. But nobody
wish to recognize it. Everybody counts himself right and can not find own
mistake. Pope, Benedict XVI says that "Hell is a place where sinners
really do burn in an everlasting fire". I would ask him will he also burn in
this fire. Is he really sinless? Is or was really sinless man in the world? Of
course not - I answer and all scientists can find that there has not been
sinless human in the history. As well as no Popes, no prophets were sinless
apart a few ones, because of we do not know in
detail. Every of them have been encouraging the death of innocent people.
New facts: 1. At the beginning of the deportation and
genocide of Azeri people from the
Your assessment would be valuable.
(2) My reply -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
After this impassioned plea --
I, too, often feel rather overwhelmed with the many ways in which sheer craziness might lead us all to extinction. The human race has a huge amount of work it needs to do, simply in order to survive... and we seem to be way behind schedule.
Rationality is certainly a key part of what we need more of, in order to be able to get our work done. But what is rationality?
For example -- if the Millennium Project were to take a strong position against religion in all of its forms, would that be rational? Would that help us get the work done? That I doubt.
On your web page, you say that a rational society is one which dedicates itself to the supreme goal of human "prosperity." Certainly there are people who would propose that all of human society, laws and funded activities should be made "efficient" in maximizing one variable - the rate of growth of real GNP. Hazel Henderson and I and others on this list have written at great length about why that is a bad metric... In fact, that concept by itself might be seen as one of the important evils of our age.
We need to have a better concept of what rationality IS, before we can push it further.
Like you, I believe that greater rationality really is essential... Therefore, I have spent a large part of my life developing a more viable concept of what rationality IS. You have to know what it is, before you can use it more pervasively.
The concept STARTS from the earlier concept of rationality developed by Von Neumann, in his classic book The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. In essence -- in order to avoid wasting energy fighting themselves, people need to articulate a kind of "utility function," a decision about what they really want, when they must make a choice. Von Neumann's ideal of rationality does not tell us what the utility function should be, however. Von Neumann's version is the basis of modern decision tree analysis and "risk management" theory, and has many uses -- but has many limitations as well.
There is an important new research community which has begun to
overcome these limitations of the
Von Neumann concept - not by throwing it out, but by adding to it. We had an
important conference on that subject in
An early part of my paper is posted at...
A lot of earlier work (and my own view of religions) is posted at
though it badly needs to be updated by lots of new material.
Some key notions are:
(1) Logic and mathematics cannot tell us what our utility function "should be." The only firm ground for making that decision is "inside ourselves" – rather like the notion from Confucianism and Taoism that we should be "true to our deepest self." That requires some effort at substantive, concrete self-understanding.
(2) Our higher intelligence is not all verbal. We can be fully conscious of things even without articulating them in words. Our higher intelligence LEARNS to do better and better, with time, but never achieves perfect Von Neumann rationality, even though that is the direction it naturally moves towards.
(3) One part of doing better is that we help ourselves and others LEARN to be more effective, in many ways. One part of that is that we learn to express our natural tendency towards rationality both in words and in mathematics -- recognizing that mathematics is more precise than words, and helps us see things we need to see that we might have missed if we lived only in a foggy subjective world of words.
(4) Rationality is NOT an alternative to such equally basic principles as love and benevolence. If we choose the former over the latter, or the latter over the former, either way we are badly crippled and perhaps even doomed. The natural tendency is to move towards the point where we can understand and see equivalence between what these two sets of principles point towards -- keeping them BOTH alive.
(5) Can SOCIETIES be as intelligent or rational as individual people can be? Is it rational for us as individuals to ask that societies be restructured so that they look more like brains, complete with a collective thalamus and cerebellum and so on? In my view, the concept is useful but it would be dangerous to demand too much; however, it is a very complex topic, and I will say no more about it on this list. The topic of "collective intelligence" is of growing interest to this community, but not for this list.
Enough for now.
Best of luck to us all,
(3) Arnoldo’s quick comment ---------------------------------------------
You are right it´s important to avoid fundamentalisms , and keep our several eyes open , as suggested by Ken Wilber et all , and not forget the possibilities already open by the AQAL integral epistemological approach.