On the Classical Concept of Rationality

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2011 at 3:14 am

What is the utility of the classical concept of rationality, as evidenced in classical economics, probability theory, decision theory, and basic Humean psychology?

Since its development, mankind’s failure to fall under this concept  has become more and more apparent. And yet it still seems useful.

Perhaps the mainstream way of coping with this is the “ideal” idea: the classical concept of rationality is a regulative ideal – something which should be striven toward, ceteris paribus. But this seems quite baseless and problematic.

There is another way.

There is a class of cases where the CCoR can be fruitfully used to describe, explain and predict behaviour. But this class isn’t as big as we used to think. But if we “divide the self” – recognize within an agent a system of “subagents” (being careful to note what an abstraction this is!), we can use the CCoR helpfully in more cases.

We could stipulate that every subagent is such that its desires DON’T leak into its beliefs. Now the CCoR in application to us causes all kinds of worries (not least in economics), but rather than throwing it or even changing it much, we can just find new objects to which it applies better: subagents.
Thus the classical concept of rationality is a perfectly good apparatus. Its suboptimal performance in classical contexts can be traced to the “low resolution” at which it was applied. In terms of the apparatus analogy: the concept had to be scaled down, not redesigned.
One reason I’m excited by this is that it shows the possibility of an attractive alternative to this mainstream but intensely problematic view about the classical concept of rationality: it is a regulative ideal for us to strive toward, ceteris paribus (all other things equal). That seems like it might be wrong in some interesting way. And that might be taken to show that the classical concept of rationality is not a good design. But the foregoing considerations make it clear that this doesn’t follow.

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