Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Rationality Is Not Self-Interest

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 23, 2010

People often talk about rationality as though it refers to self-interest. Acting to ensure one’s own survival is considered rational. But it’s not rational any more or less than acting to ensure one’s own demise is rational. Rationality cannot properly assess ethical assumptions; rather, it can only apply assumptions to situations and determine if the situations are appropriate.

Rationality is the ability to logically deduce conclusions from premises. If one presumes that survival is paramount, the rational thing to do is to take actions that will likely aid survival. If one assumes that eating hamburgers is paramount, the rational thing to do is to take actions that will lead to the eating of hamburgers. Rationality does not tell you the right result; it only tells you how to get there once you already know what it is. (At least, no one for the last two and a half millennia has been able to rationally derive a basis for all action.)

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One Response to “Rationality Is Not Self-Interest”

  1. Matthew Helm said

    Kirk: I wish to drink this alcohol because, even though it harms my liver, it makes me temporarily happier.
    Spock: That is not logical.

    Anyone else ever think Spock was kinda slow in the head?

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