Is it Rational to Choose to Ignore Reason?

Rational Choice Theory–posits that individuals always act rationally and instrumentally, weighing potential costs and benefits as they aim to maximize their own utility (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

I don’t have to point out the flaws of this theory while experience with other people (especially drunk ones) and quick research can quickly dismiss it. What I would like to point out is this theory, more like hypothesis, is the dominant platform of both economic and political sciences.

To counter, Bryan Caplan coined the term “rational irrationality” to help explain the inconsistencies of Rational Choice Theory by branching rationality into two types:

  • Epistemic rationality – developing a belief system by honest efforts to avoid fallacious reasoning and being open to new evidence to form truths.
  • Instrumental rationality – using the most effective means to attain one’s actual goals grounded on one’s actual beliefs.
A situation where it is instrumentally rational to be epistemically rational is called rational irrationality.
           ^This situation is also known as bullshitting.

Situations that are more likely to elicit this behavior:

  1. The appeal of a belief over another.
  2. The cost of holding a fallacious or irrational belief is low. <—- This highlights the importance of integrity.

I graduated with a B.A. in Political Sciences and oftentimes I wonder if my studies was founded on other ideas from other disciplines besides economics where we get the likes of Rational Choice Theory and rational irrationality. Examples:

Evolutionary ethics: which tries to explain the biological foundations of ethics.

Sociobiology:  scientific study of the biological aspects of social behavior in animals and humans.

Social Dominance Theory: a theory of intergroup relations that focuses on the maintenance and stability of group-based social hierarchies.

These are just a few ideas that can shed light on human behavior and certainly more interesting than a theory that looks very wrong on its face. It is not to say any of the three I find interesting is an adequate replacement of what Rational Choice Theory tries to cover; I am simply saying that it should be replaced. Maybe Bryan Caplan’s rational irrationality can be a temporary measure but I have the feeling a theory premised on human psychology and biology can bring us closer to a more better economic and political discipline.

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