Should We Be Rational?

Engraving of portrait of Greek philosopher Xenocrates (396-314 B. C.), disciple of Plato and the first to divide philosophy into logic, physics and ethics, from "Diogenis Laertii de Vitis, Graeci et Latine" by Marcus Meibomius, 1692.

Engraving of portrait of Greek philosopher Xenocrates (396-314 B. C.), disciple of Plato and the first to divide philosophy into logic, physics and ethics, from “Diogenis Laertii de Vitis, Graeci et Latine” by Marcus Meibomius, 1692.

Should we be rational and/or logical? Recently, I heard a discussion about rationality and how we overuse it. In that same discussion, the words “rational” and “logic” were interchanged. Those that were participating in the discussion were treating the two words as synonyms. I don’t believe they are and that treating them as synonyms causes more confusion than clarification.

OK, so what do I think is the difference between the meaning of the words, rational and logic? Please, read on.

Rational, to me, ideally means thinking that is not egocentric and is done in a systematic manner where the thinking is taken apart, assessed using good intellectual standards and strives toward good intellectual traits. It is difficult to give a short and clear definition of rational, but easy to say what it isn’t. It isn’t thinking that’s unfair, egocentric and unsystematic.

The word logic is used in many different ways, but to me, it means thinking in a way that “makes sense.” It means thinking that consist of parts that “fit together.” It means thinking that is supported by evidence. In other words, logic is more of a standard used to assess thinking and rational is a way of thinking that uses logic as one of its assessment standards. The internet is full of different meanings for rational and logic. For this discussion, I will use the description given at the beginning of the previous paragraph.

Social science research has shown that most of the time we do not make smart, rational choices about our health, money and love life. Some of us will complain about a 5¢ overcharge and then walk to a coffee shop and pay $5 for a latte. Many will avoid going to see a doctor or getting medical tests that would help detect common killers, while at the same time have a religious fervor for daily exercise. We do the exercise for living a longer and healthier life, yet make choices to avoid detecting a problem that will shorten our life. These choices that go against our self-interest are not rational. Since, in a way they don’t make sense, I guess our choices aren’t logical. :-)

It is difficult to always be rational. It’s hard to separate our emotions from our rational thinking. Our mind is capable of doing so, but we often intuitively make decisions without consciously realizing that the decision was made on pure emotion. Before we can correct this way of thinking, we need to make ourselves aware of when it most likely will happen. In my case, I tend to be less rational when I don’t have enough time to think about the decision. I feel rushed and my decision is often based on “how I feel about …” and not on “how I rationally thought through the problem.”

Do you promise to be rational?

Do you promise to be rational?

I must admit that often times a decision, which is made fast and based on feelings, turns out the be a good decision. That’s good and bad. It’s good in that the final result was good. It’s bad in that the method for deciding, resulted in reinforcing irrational thinking. It’s also bad because when we make decisions in this way, the method can be habit forming due to receiving instant gratification. In other words, “we had gain with no pain” instead of “no pain, no gain.” In my case, I know I need to spend more time thinking about my choices and looking at problems from a rational point of view. I need to find a way to “not hurry” and “not emote” when faced with a major  decision. This will help me to not base my decision on my feelings and instead, be aware of my feelings while I look at the problem rationally.

It's not logical, but I love you!

It’s not logical, but I love you!

Before I end this, I think it is important to emphasize that no one can always be logical. Of course, if we use logic as a standard for assessing our thinking, and not as a “way of thinking,” then we should have no problem with logic.

Often times, human relationships defy logic. In other words, sometimes relationships just don’t make sense. They are not logical. My Mom and Dad are an example. From my perspective, they were opposites. They didn’t seem to have any common interests, yet their relationship was “successful.” It wasn’t logical but it was rational. They had a system (relation) that worked for them. I think their relationship wasn’t logical, but it was clear, relevant, accurate and significant with breadth and depth. These are all standards, like logic, that can be used to help rationally assess the relationship.

In summary, I think we should, as much as possible, look at our life through a “rational window.” It doesn’t mean we will use only logic. It doesn’t mean we won’t have feelings. It doesn’t mean we will be boring. It means we will strive to be our best.

Should we be rational? YES!grab-small-r21

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