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Irrational sciences Ivana Markova
Why to talk about irrationalities? • Diagnosis of problems, conflicts and dilemmas • Living in a bureaucratized world of the Weberian rationalization • Ambiguities and uncertainties with regard to being controlled and the rhetoric of having control • Polysemic nature of words ‘rationality’ and ‘irrationality’ • Karl Mannheim; Gustav Ichheiser – classification of meanings • Rom Harre – a catalogue of irrationalities • This presentation: to reflect on different ways in which social sciences discuss rationalities and irrationalities
Overview • 1. Rational sciences versus irrational social sciences • 2. Rational and irrational social sciences • A) Enlightenment versus Romanticism • B) universalism versus relativism • 3. Rationality and irrationality in humans • A) broadening the limits of rationality • B) purposive rationality vs. impulsive irrationality • C) rational vs. irrational values • D) individual rationality vs. collective irrationality • E) rationality of the Ego-Alter-Object
1. Rational sciences and irrational social sciences • Pascal’s (1623-1662) 'l'esprit de geometrie‘ et 'l'esprit de finesse' anticipate the later division between rationalism and irrationalism • 17th century natural science: ‘knowledge which eliminates mystery’ (M. Foster, Myth and Philosophy). • Social sciences started their scientific career as ‘irrational’ disciplines (Moscovici, 1993); nationalism, religion, myth and beliefs.
Natural Sciences Univocal terminology and methods – make them universally communicable in scientific community Cumulative Transcultural Largely value-free Objects of study can be separated from one another Study of the body and the brain Rationality is not an issue Social Sciences Enormous variability in the use of terms; polysemy Difficulties of communication in scientific communities Not cumulative Culture-bound Value-bound relations among objects of study The study of the mind and society Rationality is an issue: touches directly on fundamental questions of social sciences Main differences
The split within social sciences • Leaning towards and away from natural sciences • Two issues in social sciences, although mutually related: • a) rational and irrational approaches in social sciences or whether, and to what extent social sciences are rational disciplines • b) If we presuppose the unity or uniformity of the human mind, why do humans think and act in an irrational manner?
2. Rational and irrational social sciences • Zafirovski (2005): Is sociology the science of the irrational? • economists and rational choice theorists - sociology is the science of the irrational lacking a conception of rationality • Problem: no conceptual analysis • However, his historical review gives support to the existence of the split within social sciences in terms of Enlightenment versus Romantic approaches.
A) Enlightenment versus Romanticism • References to this split in contemporary scholars (e.g. Shweder, 1984; Hollis and Lukes, 1982; Gellner, 1998) and often it is associated with the distinction between Gesellschaft (rationalistic approach) and Gemeinshaft (irrational approach) (cf. Tönnies, 1887). • Range of personalities on both sides
Enlightenment approaches: Max Weber • Reminder of Max Weber’s influence: rejecting Romantic movements of his era; main focus on the development of rationality in economy and social organization; ascetic Protestantism and industrialisation • limitations of the ‘iron cage’ and ‘mechanized petrification’ of rationalization and bureaucratization resulting in disenchantment of society and although he was pessimistic about it, he accepted the criteria of rationality. • values will disappear from society • Strategies: strong parliaments, the support for democracy and capitalism; constriction of science: value-free and objective facts; values belong to the realm of subjectivity.
Enlightenment approaches:from science to ideology • Bauman’s criticism of implications for Nazism from Weber’s support for a strong nation state. • R. Rubenstein: ‘nothing in Weber... no horror perpetrated by the German medical profession or German technocrats was inconsistent with the view that values are inherently subjective and that science is intrinsically instrumental and value-free.”’. • Paradox: scientific approaches supporting racist ideologies • Jahoda: Intra-European Racism in Nineteenth-Century Anthropology • 19th century: The origins of “scientific” racism were connected with the use of race as an explanation of history, and with the rise of physiognomy and phrenology - “craniology”; from biological to ideological and political
Romantic approaches • Shweder (1984) develops a culture theory. Rationality and irrationality dichotomy belongs only to the Enlightenment approach, i.e. the narrow scientific and mechanistic approach that excludes any human concerns. The Romantic approach is neither rationalist nor irrationalist, it is non-rationalist or cultural. Shweder (1991) no longer uses the notion of non-rationality; instead, rationality (or psychic unity) is one of the central themes of Thinking Through Cultures. • Shweder’s questions: what inferences can one draw from the ‘apparent diversity of human conceptions of reality, and what justification is there for our own conceptions of reality in the light of that apparent diversity’?
Romantic approaches • The concept of rationality so transformed is also adopted by Rosa and Valsiner (2007) in their conception of socio-cultural psychology • Cultures are no longer isolated geographically; open societies with their created uncertainties move cultures in all directions • Reason is not a private domain but it is negotiated: a constant push towards making choices, human activities take place within confrontation of different reasons, developing new rules and realities. In these confrontations ‘Reason then turns into Rationality’ giving rise to Ethics and to Objectivity that emerges through transformations of rules and norms. ‘Rationality, Ethics and Objectivity’ (all with capital letters), cannot be disentangled
B) Rationality versus Relativism • Anthropology and psychology: search for universals and questions about the sources of relativism and irrational beliefs; can different cultures and minds of others be understood universally? • Questions about sources of irrational beliefs: identifying different forms of relativism, e.g. weak and strong forms, types of representational beliefs (‘convictions’, ‘persuasion’, ‘opinions’) (Sperber, 1982), and different kinds of translation, interpretation and explanation of beliefs (Lukes, 1982); some defend universalism (how to explain irrational beliefs) (e.g. Lukes, Hollis, Sperber, Horton), others defend relativism (understanding other minds on their own premises) (e.g. Barnes and Bloor, Hacking), while yet others take positions in-between
3. Rationality and irrationality in humans • Why is it that despite their capacity for rationality most people are irrational, hold false beliefs, myths, have convictions about magic and behave irrationally? • broadening the limits of rationality • purposive-reflective rationality versus impulsive-instinctive irrationality • rational and irrational values • rationality generated from reason versus irrationality coming from others • rationality of the Ego-Alter-Object
Broadening the limits of rationality • Psychology:no theoretical or conceptual analysis; mundane meanings: Sutherland: Irrationality; Drozda-Senkowska: Irrationalites collectives • Anthropologists (e.g. Lukes, Sperber, Elster) adopt, at least partly, the philosophical position of Donald Davidson and they refer to his charity principle • Davidson’s argument that the idea of an irrational action, belief, intention, emotion, and so on, is paradoxical because irrationality would be a failure within reason. Action and thought etc. can be irrational only if it is incoherent within the actor's own reason. • Within discussion of universalism and relativism - argument that different cultures can be understood in their own rights but nevertheless, in doing this they are seeking universal features.
Broadening the limits of rationality • Davidson: incoherence within a single person of beliefs, attitudes, emotions, intentions and actions, e.g. wishful thinking (some cases), acting contrary to one's best judgment, self-deception • Irrationality, too, is normative. Standard? Again, internal inconsistency; propositional attitudes mutually related. • Irrationality does exist in the form of akrasia and self-deception • Synchronous belief and disbelief: accepting contradictory propositions synchronously and accepting contradictory propositions that are held apart • Irrationality of delusions, persuading oneself into believing something else, nourishing one's illusions (e.g. Madame Bovary believing her imagined reality).
Purposive-reflective rationality versus impulsive-instinctive irrationality • Pascal; Ichheiser –superiority of rationality • Scientific rationalism against instincts and intuition of ideas • G. Pólya: heuristic … or ‘ars inveniendi’ ‘the aim of heuristic is to study the methods and rules of discovery and invention’. Two incidents - mathematical illusory dreams. Two faces of mathematics: as a purely demonstrative science but the creative work resembles that of the naturalist: observation, analogy, and conjectural generalizations, or mere guesses ‘a theorem must be guessed before it is proved’. • Einstein - Concepts are free inventions of the human mind: ‘[s]cience forces us to create new ideas, new theories’. ‘surprise’ arising from invention is important for science (Einstein and Infeld, 1961; Moscovici,1992).
Rational versus irrational values • Gellner’s (1992, pp.136-7) characteristic of a rational person: he ‘methodically augments his capital, cognitive as well as financial. He ploughs back his profits rather than turning them into pleasure, power, or status. His life is a progression of achievement, rather than the static occupancy, enjoyment, and fulfilment of an ascribed status.’ • Weber: why are some people more rational than others? Answer: some values, goals and actions are more rational than others; rational values are based on self-interest leading to economic welfare and to technological and scientific progress. • China today: commercialism; profit is the highest and ‘fully rational’ criterion of the purpose of human existence
Rationality generated from reason versus irrationality coming from others • Descartes: ‘custom and example’ - irrationality • Gellner: ‘We discover truth alone, we err in groups’. • irrationality comes from others, from cultures; ‘irrationalites collectives’ (Drozda-Senkowska, 1995) • Le Bon, Ortega y Gasset, McDougall – masses, crowds • Durkheim’s rationality: ’All representations are rational, even if, to paraphrase Orwell, some appear more rational than others. Representations of the civilized may appear to be more rational than those of the alleged primitives, scientific representations may appear more rational than religious ones, and so on’ (Moscovici, 1998) • collective representations are rational beliefs and reflect social reality. They are ‘socially true’ (The Elementary Forms). No religions are false. All respond to the given conditions of human existence’
Rationality of the Ego-Alter-Object • Durkheim: On the journey from religious beliefs to science, representations become more rational. • Moscovici: the triad Ego-Alter-Object: ‘Social representations …seized in common sense are analogous to paradigms…contrary to scientific paradigms, [they] are made partly of beliefs based on trust and partly of elements of knowledge based on truth. Validation of beliefs –long and uncertain - they can be neither confirmed nor disconfirmed’. • Resistible and irresistible beliefs; in Reason and cultures Moscovici (1993) introduces the notion of fiduciary rationality, something like irresistible beliefs - rooted within groups (like credit) – sociality coming from within • the rationality of the common sense – has the characteristic of fiduciary rationality.