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Thinking and Deciding 3: Rationality

08/31/2013

Good thinking and goal achievement

Rational thinking is that which helps people best achieve their goals. Missing from Baron’s definition is a distinction between epistemic and instrumental rationality. It’s all instrumental, although I predict that Baron would consider epistemic rationality to almost always be instrumental as well.

Spending huge amounts of time evaluating possibilities can serve to ruin our chances at achieving what we desire. So there is a point where searching for more information becomes too costly to be worth doing. An optimal search is one in which

Rationality and emotion

Emotion is often viewed as antithetical to rationality. If it is used as the sole motivator of decisions without thought, this can be the case. But emotions or their avoidance themselves can be goals of behavior, or evidence for beliefs, or tools that aid in goal fulfillment. They do not necessarily contrast with rationality.

Rationality and belief

Baron works on the assumption that people usually have the goal of having true beliefs, although earlier in the book he acknowledges exceptions. That means that having an open mind, i.e. considering other possibilities in our thought processes is a sign of good, rational thinking.

Sometimes self deception is worthwhile and “rational,” like setting one’s clock forward five minutes. Baron also uses the example of thinking one’s spouse is the very best choice to avoid experimentation. Interestingly, my first reaction to these examples was to think of ways to achieve the desired ends without using self-deception. Baron points the same thing out.

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