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The Righteous Mind: The Rationalist Delusion 
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Post The Righteous Mind: The Rationalist Delusion
Haidt's section on the rationalist delusion (p. 88) finishes up the first part of the book. I think there may be a few people who have just got the book and are trying to catch up, so I might not make any new threads for a few days to let them do that.

The term 'rationalist delusion' is not one with a previous history, as far as I can tell. Hume would seem to claim that rationalism is delusory, but he doesn't put it that way. Anyway, Haidt claims that he originates the term, and he probably does so to be able to counter Richard Dawkins, who of course wrote The God Delusion and whom Haidt considers the dean of the New Atheists. The New Atheists, according to JH, are rationalists to the core. Rationalists believe that "reasoning is our most noble attribute, one that makes us like the gods (for Plato) or that brings us beyond the 'delusion' of believing in gods (for the New Atheists). The rationalist delusion is not just a claim about human nature. It's also a claim that the rational caste (philosophers or scientists) should have more power, and it usually comes along with a utopian program for raising more rational children."

This is the kind of attack that can get our elephant swaying, as Haidt himself would say, or maybe even rampaging through the jungle, as our rider tries desperately to provide reasoning in defense of rationalism. It's a good idea to remain calm and note that JH isn't attacking rational thought or advocating that we make a habit of going with our gut feelings. "Gut feelings are sometimes better guides than reasoning when it comes to making consumer choices and interpersonal judgments, but they are often disastrous as a basis for public policy, science, and law." He is suggesting that rationalism, like any -ism we can think of, is going to fall far short as a comprehensive ideology by which we lead our lives. In this section, he broadens his attack on rationalism, though, calling for support from all the voluminous literature on the pitfalls of reasoning. In other words, it's not just about moral reasoning anymore. Reasoning itself is something we should be wary of as we use it. Here again, I'd suggest that 'reason' and 'reasoning' aren't equivalent. We should always have respect for reason, the "power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic" (dictionary). But reasoning, as a largely social activity, is subject to many pitfalls. In the moral realm, the pitfall is that it usually is a post-hoc rationalization of our gut feelings or intuitions.

So what does JH suggest as a way of using our reason as the essential tool that it is, while avoiding the abuses we put it to?

"What I'm saying is that we must be wary of any individual's ability to reason. We should see each individual as being limited, like a neuron. A neuron is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to 'decide' whether to fire a pulse along its axon. A neuron by itself isn't very smart. But if you put neurons together in the right way you get a brain; you get an emergent system that is much smarter and more flexible than a single neuron. In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it's so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth."



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: The Rationalist Delusion
The paragraph you're quoting seems to be describing the scientific enterprise, and is of course why scientific claims require confirmation by others before being taken seriously. Surely no one doubts that any individual's reason can be
unreliable.

If by delusion he just means that people are not appreciating the role of "the elephant" then there should be nothing controversial about that. But he seems to want to say something more than that. (Later on in the book he does explicitly that everything up to that point has been descriptive only, not prescriptive.)



Sun Jul 15, 2012 9:36 am
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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: The Rationalist Delusion
Dexter wrote:
The paragraph you're quoting seems to be describing the scientific enterprise, and is of course why scientific claims require confirmation by others before being taken seriously. Surely no one doubts that any individual's reason can be unreliable.

If by delusion he just means that people are not appreciating the role of "the elephant" then there should be nothing controversial about that. But he seems to want to say something more than that. (Later on in the book he does explicitly that everything up to that point has been descriptive only, not prescriptive.)

That's true, now that I look at it--the paragraph does describe what science does to even out the bumps of individual differences in reasoning. So what JH is proposing for everyday situations for us non-scientists could be seen as use of a scientific method. I think he's right, though, that in daily life there really isn't much appreciation of the unreliability of individual reason, and therefore there are few controls used to limit the bad effects.

By delusion he seems to tweaking Dawkins. If the idea of God is a delusion, then surely, he says, we can also call the idea that reason rules us a delusion as well. The fact that we use moral reasoning not to find the truth but mostly to prop up our reputations, is only one of the indicators of that.



Last edited by DWill on Sun Jul 15, 2012 6:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: The Rationalist Delusion
Reason is a term that has immense cultural baggage.

Historically, the scientific enlightenment was understood as the revolt of reason against tradition. This led to the French Revolution enthroning the Goddess of Reason in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, although the leaders of the revolution felt this was an overstretch and guillotined those responsible. Edmund Burke then wrote a blistering attack on the presumption of reason in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he argued that we often do not fully understand the inner logic of existing practices, and we should be conservative regarding proposals for change based on plausible rhetoric. Robespierre began the revolution with triumphant hopes of liberty equality and fraternity as the basis of a new rational era, but the revolution ended in the tears and tyranny of dictatorship.

Socialism continued to claim reason as its banner, with the song The Internationale including the line 'reason in revolt now thunders'. Observation of the absurdity of many traditions led to the association between atheism, reason and socialism. But it is not clear if political rationalism in this sense is more than a banner for sectional interests. The conservative economist Friedrich Hayek expanded Burke's critique of reason in his books such as The Road to Serfdom, where he argued that we simply lack the data required for effective central planning of an economy, so the rationalist hubris of socialism leads inevitably to stagnation and tyranny.

The takeout here is that reason operates in overlapping and contradictory ways in human life. Left wingers point to the irrationality of conservative beliefs, and argue that society could be better governed if decisions were based on transparent logic. Right wingers respond that the left wing rhetoric about reason conceals emotional assumptions about class conflict, and often fails to make its premises explicit.

The debate on religion is a major case in point. Atheism correctly observes the lack of logic in theories of supernatural entities. But then, atheism often fails to recognise the constructive social function of these irrational beliefs, and how stated irrational narratives can conceal deeper meanings that have a valid logic.

Hayek argues that the difficulty of seeing the real benefits of existing systems means we should be cautious about advocating drastic change. He supports incremental evolution, building on precedent, aiming for a strong state that uses rule of law to regulate the boundaries of permissible action while seeing a free market as the most efficient way to distribute information effectively. Markets send clear messages about supply and demand in ways that central economic planning simply cannot. The distributed chaotic data of billions of individual decisons does contain an inner logic, but this logic is revealed in price signals, not in rational theories about what people should want.

Science finds itself caught in the middle of this political debate on reason. While science sticks to facts alone, it is purely rational. However, as soon as the political values and judgments of scientists seek to use the mantle of scientific reason to justify policy recommendations, we are back in the murky world of politics, where reason is always intimately entwined with emotion.

One good example is global warming. The science is very clear that CO2 emissions are heating the planet. But when advocates say that a specific measure, such as carbon taxes, could be a sufficient response, we are back into politics where our information is often inadequate to justify decisions, and where hidden motives such as building a popular front to redistribute wealth can often lurk behind a seemingly rational policy stance.


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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: The Rationalist Delusion
Reason is the best pal anyone could ask for in argument. It's no wonder that both sides claim it's on their side. I don't know of anyone who disavows reason. It's even difficult to get very religious people who talk so much about the importance of faith, to admit that what they believe is not also reasonable and actual. But with everyone thinking that reason is with them, it's obvious that it can't be and that a lot of this talk is just seeking prestige for whatever we believe.



Sun Jul 15, 2012 9:43 pm
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