Comments on “Rationality, rationalism, and alternatives”


Something Einstein may or may not have said

James's picture

I happened to run across a quote today, attributed to Albert Einstein (admittedly I haven’t checked because who cares?), that fits nicely with the theme of this page:

So far as the theories of mathematics are about reality, they are not certain: so far as they are certain, they are not about reality.

It seems to me that most of controversies in philosophy of mathematics are at root about this mismatch and what to do about it.

Rationalism is normative. What about metarationalism?

SIM KIM SIA's picture

You mention that rationalism and metarationalism are incompatible explanations about how and why rationality, metarationality, reasonableness work.

You also mention that rationalism is normative. Telling us how we ought to use rationality.

What about meta-rationalism? Is it also normative by your definition?

My preference is that meta-rationalism seems to suggest what you should do, but is actually not. By understanding its definition clearly and then applying it, you automatically understand how to use rationality etc as it is best designed for.

Is it normative to use things the way they are best designed for? Maybe a new adjective needs to be invented. Normative might be too broad for my own taste.

Re: Normativity

James's picture


I’m not David, but my own view is that it’s normative, but it’s a nebulous norm: “Given an X-ish situation in which Y-ish things are important, do Z-ish things.”

Re: A more precise version of normative?

SIM KIM SIA's picture

THanks James for response. Given X probably a good idea to do Y is similar to what i was suggesting about doing things based on what they are best designed for.

So I suppose, in metarationalism, there are no universal context-independent normatives.

By plural nouns, I mean specific normative goals or values.

I suppose it will be like rationalism is normative (in the attitude sense hence the adjective).

Metarationalism is non-normative (as in silent in the attitude sense)

But what metarationalism will likely focus on are normatives (in the plural noun sense) that are context-dependent (as in your Given When Then). Any context-independent expressions of normatives are actually also context-dependent.. just that the context is yet to be discovered or purposely omitted for brevity’s sake during communications.


Re: plural norms

James's picture


So I suppose, in metarationalism, there are no universal context-independent normatives.

That’s my take as well. To me the Platonic conception of the Good is a millstone around the neck of ethics and norms generally. Just like it makes no sense to do evil for the sake of doing evil, it makes no sense to do good just for the sake of its own abstract goodness.

A few ethicists of a more Aristotelian bent have argued that actions and things are not good or bad tout court but good or bad in a certain way, good for this or bad for that. I take that approach while avoiding both the Scholastic mistake of thinking of good in terms of conformity to fixed, well-defined essences and the existentialist mistake of thinking that terminal values are subjective or arbitrary.

Metarationalism is non-normative (as in silent in the attitude sense)

I have to admit, I’m not sure what “silent in the attitude sense” means here. Could you elaborate?

As in agnostic about whether

sim kim sia's picture

As in agnostic about whether capital S Should exists in the eternalistic sense or does not exist in the nihilistic sense or that it’s arbitrary in the existentialist sense

Hence silent. Makes no position.

Also not saying the position towards normatives is no position which is self defeating. Just simply no position.

At least that’s how I read it. Thanks for writing. Your phrase about “existentialist making values arbitrary” is useful for me.

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This page is in the section Part One: Taking rationalism seriously,
      which is in In the Cells of the Eggplant.

The next page in this section is Rationalism’s responses to trouble.

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