Does Giving Reasons for Your Actions Justify Them as Rational?

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  • Topic: Rational choice theory, Rationality, Bounded rationality
  • Pages : 2 (544 words )
  • Download(s) : 33
  • Published : April 16, 2013
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The answer to this question depends upon the way in which we define rationality. In this essay, I will discuss the meaning of the term ‘rational,’ and its relation to human reasoning and decision making, calling into question definitions of the term in order to make a judgement as to whether giving reasons for actions justifies them as rational.

Firstly, for the purpose of this essay I shall define ‘reasons’ as verbal justification comprehensible to those other than the decision maker. Moving on to the concept of rationality, I shall begin with the economist’s definition of rationality. As defined by Becker in rational choice theory, and advocated by Friedman and the classical school, an action that is ‘rational’ is one that is motivated solely by self interest. A rational action taken by a group therefore maximizes the self interest of that group, and thus falls under assumptions of utilitarianism. Taking this definition, any agent that justifies his actions as motivated by self-gain is rational. Therefore, giving reasons for your actions, provided they are motivated by self interest, is sufficient to define actions as rational.

However, the economic theory of rationality has recently been challenged by many leading economists, and indeed Keynesian theories of choice such as ‘Animal Spirits’ illustrated its weaknesses far before its inception. The concept of ‘bounded rationality,’ it can be argued, paints a more realistic picture, taking into account that humans are not rational agents as they are not always able to make decisions that maximize their utility, for example, due to energy and time constraints, imperfect information, or influences of the psychological mind on the decision making process. Recent texts such as Thaler and Sunstein’s ‘Nudge’ have demonstrated that we are not always rational, though it may seem that we are self interested, and can give reasons for our definitions. Therefore taking into account these criticisms, which have...
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