Monday, January 3, 2011

Rationality and Rationalities

Recently I've had the opportunity to rant for two different people about the issue of logic and rationality. Such an overused word that doesn't mean as much to me as it does to other people.

Damn those illogical fools, some would say.

Curse you for being so damn irrational, others might say.

If you could only learn to be logical then you would abandon your foolish political ideas and learn to think like me, someone else might say.

As if though logic and rationality were some singularity! Ha!

Definitely not. It isn't some sort of singularity, it is a specific way of thinking that can lead to a variety of different conclusions. Not to the same conclusion all the time.

I think that the major thing I'm trying to talk about can be highlighted by pointing out the existence of a plural form: there is not simply 'rationality', there are 'rationalities'.

Yet we still speak of rationality as if though it were so singular, so obvious if you were to follow its magical trails.

I think this is a very serious issue and I don't really know how to tackle it in any substantial way right now.

But Foucault talks about it in interesting ways, highlighting that the Enlightenment did not give rise to 'rationality' in government, but rather to certain rationalities.

I also think that Searle's work in Making The Social World has something to do with this. I think that the notion of status functions has something to do with rationalities, as a plural.

When I was writing my essay on art and status functions I stumbled upon the idea of 'layers of rationality' or 'layers of status functions'. By which I mean that there are certain rationalities or status functions that only make sense if there is already another rationality or status function that has already been implicit accepted. If I want to enforce a certain type of behavior in my home, for example, I am only capable of doing it because the notion of ownership of space is already an accepted rationality. I can only enforce my rationality about the behavior in my home because the rationality of property ownership is already accepted. This same thing can be spoken of in terms of status functions as well. When I declare that people can behave a certain way in my space I am making a Status Function Declaration. But ownership and property is also a Status Function that has been established by countless Status Function Declarations already made in the past. Thus there are layers of Status Functions that build upon one another. Some Status Functions are possible only because other Status Functions exist to buttress to them.

The example I was using in that writing was how people say 'shotgun' to claim the front seat of a car. In high school I thought that was stupid and I wouldn't allow it in my car; I made my friends rotate. Because it was my car my friends respected the things that I said. I was able to create a new Status Function because the Status Function of ownership was already in place. I was able to impose a new rationality in the space of my car because there was already a rationality there for it to work with.

So the questions I have are these: if rationality exists as a plural and diverse phenomenon, then how do we determine the best rationalities to live by? how deep do these layers of rationalities go? what status functions/rationalities enable other status functions/rationalities to exist? what rationalities exist only because there are other rationalities buttressing them? what are the crucial rationalities that we are unaware of?

Hmmm. This is a complex issue that is going over my head right now.

But I'm tired of everyone speaking of rationality as some self-evident singularity. Because it isn't.

Please, don't speak of 'illogical' or 'irrational' people so carelessly.

If you looked hard at them you might find a rationality in their actions.

You won't find a singular rationality anywhere. But you will find a form of rationality everywhere, I suspect.

This is why I wrote about empathy and particularization. If we accept that there a diverse set of rationalities then we might be more empathic, more compassionate.

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