Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The German sociologist Max Weber

Max Weber
The German sociologist Max Weber recommended an interpretation of social action that differentiated between four different idealized types of rationality. The first, which he called Zweckrational or purposive/instrumental rationality, is connected to the beliefs about the behavior of other human beings or objects in the environment. 

The second type, Weber called Wertrational or value/belief-oriented. Here the action is taken on for what one might call reasons built-in to the actor: some ethical, aesthetic, religious or other motive, independent of whether it will lead to success. 

The third type was affectual, decided by an actor's specific affect, feeling, or emotion – to which Weber himself said that this was a kind of prudence that was on the borderline of what he believed "meaningfully oriented." 

The fourth was customary or conservative, determined by ingrained habituation. Weber stressed that it was very odd to find only one of these orientations: combinations were the standard. His practice also makes clear that he considered the first two as more important than the others, and it is debatable that the third and fourth are subtypes of the first two.

Psychology of Reasoning
In the psychology of reasoning, psychologists and cognitive scientists have guarded different positions on human rationality.

Richard Brandt
Richard Brandt suggested a 'reforming definition' of rationality, arguing someone is rational if their ideas survive a form of cognitive-psychotherapy.

Silvio Vietta
The German cultural historian Silvio Vietta has revealed that rationality as a quantitative mode of scientific thought was an invention of Greek philosophy, generally of the Pythagorean School.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Theories of rationality

The German sociologist Max Weber proposed an interpretation of social action that distinguished between four different idealized types of rationality. The first, which he called Zweckrational or purposive/instrumental rationality, 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.

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 (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, psychologists and cognitive scientists have defended different positions on human rationality. One prominent view, due to Philip Johnson-Laird 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. However, it has been argued that many standard tests of reasoning, such as those on the conjunction fallacy, on the Wason selection task, or the base rate fallacy suffer from methodological and conceptual problems. This has led to disputes in psychology over whether researchers should (only) use standard rules of logic, probability theory and statistics, or rational choice theory as norms of good reasoning. Opponents of this view, such as Gerd Gigerenzer, favor a conception of bounded rationality, especially for tasks under high uncertainty.

Richard Brandt proposed a 'reforming definition' of rationality, arguing someone is rational if their notions survive a form of cognitive-psychotherapy.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Rationality

In philosophy, rationality is the characteristic of any action, belief, or desire, that makes their choice a necessity. It is a normative concept about the reasoning in the sense that rational people should derive conclusions in a consistent way given the information at disposal. It refers to the conformity of one's beliefs with one's reasons to believe, or with one's actions with one's reasons for action. However, the term "rationality" tends to be used differently in different disciplines, including specialized discussions of economics, sociology, psychology, and political science. A rational decision is one that is not just reasoned, but is also optimal for achieving a goal or solving a problem.

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). 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.

Monday, 28 February 2005

Unfutz has been busy

Check out the pretty charts and related statistics on Unfutz. Telling stuff. Yes, yes I know we should not assume that the uneducated voted for Bush based on one chart, but I'd like to think so. :-)

Actually some of my best friends are bush supporters and they are highly educated. I didn't say it was a good education, they just got lots of it. :-)

The most telling statistic for me is the population vs acreage vote. Clearly the high- density areas of the country voted Kerry and the low-density areas voted Bush. This was also true in the 2000 Gore/Bush election.

Perhaps this is an argument against the electoral college, or perhaps it speaks to the Bush (Rove) strategy. Win enough rural electoral votes and you win. The drawl, swagger, clearing brush on the farm, the way he pronounces words like "Nukular", his Christianity etc...are going to play big in the "live off the land," "self sufficient" types found in these low density parts of the country.

Friday, 28 January 2005

Whitman on Fresh Air

Christie Todd Whitman was interviewed by Terry Gross (Fresh Air, NPR). You can listen to the complete interview here. It's nice to hear a voice of reason from the Right. "Social Fundamentalist" is a term she's coined (Google found no other reference that conveyed the same meaning so I'm giving her the credit.) in her book It's My Party Too.... It is a good label for the Rick Santorums of the world.
I figure the least we can do as good liberals is support Republicans that speak against the theocratic right. Our support can help our cause. However, we do have to be careful of who we choose. Need another reason to support Whitman? Answer this question. Who are social fundamentalists more likely to listen to, a liberal or a Republican?

Thursday, 30 December 2004

Tsunami and The Earth System

It's been hard thinking about the earthquake victims. While I won't go so far as to call the earth a living being (others do however), I do believe that the earth system is in a delicate balance and that humans with their actions can, and have upset that balance.

For example did global warming contribute in some way to the recent tragedy in the Indian Ocean? Some of the variables like sea level, polar icecap mass, and global temperature work together (are tightly coupled). Change one, and the others respond.

What if the global temperature is increasing? That would decrease the mass of the ice caps while raising the sea level. This, in effect, is a redistribution of mass on the earth's surface. Would this mass redistribution impact tectonic plate behavior? I think yes, but Is it a subtle or a significant effect? That I can't say. Is the mass shift effect significant enough to cause the earthquake in the Indian Ocean? Or is it only enough to change the earthquake from a Richter 7 to a Richter 9 (a Richter 9 earthquake is 100 times more powerful than a Richter 7 earthquake). Had a Richter 7 earthquake occurred instead of a Richter 9, what would the death rate be? Had the sea level been one inch lower, what would the death toll be?

If earth is a system in delicate balance, our behavior can throw the system into an unstable state. Is the system trying to right itself? When the system finally becomes stable again, will we be able to live on the planet?
For an intro on system dynamics, check out systemdynamics.org hosted by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).