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  1. action which is effective in achieving the purposes which it is intended to achieve, i.e. the means are appropriate to the ends. In such a definition of instrumental rationality, no attempt need be made to appraise the rationality of the ends themselves. This conception of rationality, in which economic actors are assumed to seek to maximize their own economic returns, is often the basis of theorizing in ECONOMICS, much of this operating by the construction of idealized models (see IDEAL TYPES). For further conceptions of rational action, and questions about these, see FORMAL AND SUBSTANTIVE RATIONALITY, TYPES OF SOCIAL ACTION.
  2. knowledge of beliefs which have been established scientifically, or on some other basis considered ‘rational’. Such beliefs are implied in 1 , but the ‘rationality’ of knowledge and beliefs raises wider issues than the instrumental effectiveness of knowledge or beliefs, e.g. extensive philosophical debates (see EPISTEMOLOGY, ONTOLOGY, SCIENCE, RATIONALISM).
Other important debates concern the ‘rationality’ or otherwise of so-called primitive mentality. Lévy-Bruhl (1923) argued that, although MYTHOLOGIES and beliefs in preindustrial, prescientific societies may have a cognitive value, they reflect levels of mentality which are ‘pre-logical’. An alternative view is that the myths and beliefs in such societies are ‘rational’ in the context in which they occur, see WINCH, MAGIC, RELATIVISM.

A rather different point is that many activities which at first sight appear ‘irrational’, on closer examination may be found to possess ‘latent functions’ (see LATENT AND MANIFEST FUNCTIONS), e.g. the ‘conservatism’ of many people in THIRD WORLD SOCIETIES, who may benefit economically, especially in old age, from having more children. In wider terms, ‘nonrational beliefs’, notably RELIGION, may perform general social functions, e.g. providing social integration (see also FUNCTIONALIST THEORY OF RELIGION). Such beliefs are sometimes regarded as encapsulating an accumulated institutional rationality, perhaps linked to survival. Conversely, actions which appear ‘rational’ from the narrow perspective of immediate instrumental rationality (e.g. cutting down the Brazilian rain forest) may be seen as ‘nonrational’, taking a wider view.

What all these considerations show is that the idea of’rationality’ is often difficult to define. While rationality in its simplest sense, l , can sometimes be established without undue difficulty, only rarely can the means to an end be fully ordered (e.g. in terms of cost, availability, etc.), and actors often lack other salient information, even when this is potentially available (see THEORY OF GAMES, RATIONAL CHOICE THEORY, SATISFICING, BOUNDED RATIONALITY).

References in periodicals archive ?
The academic community at NYU is hardly characterized by rational thought and civil exchange of ideas, considering, for example, the abysmal free-speech rating accorded to it by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The social conservatism and undermining of rational thought went hand in hand.
HUMAN UNIVERSE BBC2, 9pm In episode two, Professor Brian Cox is off to India, where he assesses arguably the first evidence of rational thought in literature - the poetry of the Vedic monks.
Want replaces reasoning and feelings take over rational thought.
It's called duty" TV's Piers Morgan, above, a former Fleet Street editor "If you have got the gift of a bit of extra heft, use it" Dawn French who is happy to be piling on the pounds again after undergoing a gruelling diet "The prospect of suspending rational thought, behaving like a lemming and having to take seriously those prats who continually spout party-line twaddle seems less appealing than having my toenails pulled out or sharing a bedsit with Jeremy Clarkson" Broadcaster Janet Street-Porter has no desire to be an MP
Other topics of the 18 papers include knowing and living as data assembly, making sense of information quality on information system artifacts, the limits of rational thought upon irrational phenomena, social practice design, and the sociotechnical design of an ambient assisted living project.
Instead, the part of the brain linked to rational thought was more active.
Children do not have rational thought until they hit six and until then they look to adults to show them how to behave.
For example, when describing the immense difficulties that came with feeling something was "wrong" inside him, Olson brings in work by Jonah Lehrer, who noted that minds contain two distinct systems of thought: rational thought and feeling thought.
One of the problems, as he implies, is that many labs/tests are ordered out of habit or reflex rather than out of a rational thought process.
Intelligence tests measure important things, but they do not assess the extent of rational thought.