Also found in: Dictionary.
- thought directed to, and having outcomes in, social activity. This usage originates in PHILOSOPHY where it is contrasted with ‘theoretical reason’, considered as describing the world and its contents. Practical reason, by contrast, either emanates directly in action, or brings an immediate pressure to bear on it. It thus subsumes: considerations of the 'self realizing and maximizing its goods, ‘prudence’, and considerations that restrict or encourage action or restraint from action in relation to others, i.e. ‘morality’. The most dramatic claims to a special status for practical reason derive from Aristotle's proposal ofa practical syllogism, separate from theoretical syllogisms, in which an action itself (not a description or specification of an action) is held to follow logically from precedent premises, often summarized as a ‘desire’ and a ‘belief. The effect is to render action itself’logical’, and this is held by some to be the source of the ‘meanings’ of action. Such logical connection is then held (e.g. Von Wright, 1971) to mark the fundamental difference between the explanation of human activity and the explanation of natural events (see also MEANINGFUL UNDERSTANDING AND EXPLANATION).
- mundane or everyday thought in social situations. This ethnomethodological usage takes practical reasoning to be the central feature of routine social organization, and hence the subject matter of serious empirical sociology (see ETHNOMETHODOLOGY).
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000