Re: Digest Number 499
- Aaron asked about 'rationality':
. . . claims to being Rational are not to different than claims to
have Divine justification.
Rationality . . . has become a purposive rationality (see Habermas)
rather than a subject-centered reason. Rationality is now nearly
synonymous to Efficiency. Final goals are not considered to be
Rational or Irrational, simply the means to achieve these goals.)
To solve this problem (actually, to avoid the problem) I do not think
of my actions as Rational but rather conforming to nature. By
then, I guess, to be Rational, as I see it, is to act in conformity
Is this the Stoic definition?
Aaron, you've hit on a key issue that's bugged me for a long time.
Rationality was proposed by the Stoics and others as the defining
attribute of human nature, the essence of what it meant to be a human
being. This was such an important attribute as to be considered
divine, our share of the universal Logos. Rationality was identified
with Virtue and living in accordance with Nature, all synonymous
or phrases, as far as I can tell.
Valid reasoning was given high honors as well. Logic was one of the
three divisions of the Stoic school. But it was only one of three,
and practical ethics was the end to which logic was used. Abstract
reasoning by itself was not credited with intrinsic value in the way
practical reasoning was. This gives a hint at what a can of worms
In trying to understand ancient thought, or ideas from any other
culture for that matter, we are tempted to see implications and
meanings that aren't there because we assume our own cultural
Compounding the problem is that many writers, both ancient and
assumes the reader for the most part is familiar with their
terminology. I've looked for a good definition of ancient
'rationality' in my few reference works here at work and haven't
one that's specific enough. So, for now I must be satisfied with
garnering a meaning from the context in which the word is used.
It is clear that reasoning of some kind is necessary for purposeful
choosing, and that choosing from between various alternatives depends
on my awareness of my ability to do so; in other words
Further, the ability to choose, which I can deny but cannot avoid,
implies that one choice is better than another, in other words more
valuable. But reasoning by itself, while necessary to discern cause
and effect relationships, does not tell us what we ought to value.
So, for now, deductive / inductive / instrumental reasoning is
necessary but not sufficient for Virtue. These are all examples of
analytical reasoning which I equate with the logic of the classical
Stoics, but which I do not equate with rationality, only a component
Some other possible attributes for Stoic rationality I've collected
from my readings (not an exhaustive list):
1) Logical consistency. This is the familiar valid argument. A
rational person would be able to articulate reasons for his or her
choices, with the necessary supporting premises and a good connecting
argument. A claim to rationality certainly would not be a claim
attempting to halt inquiry.
2) Practicality. Reasoning and philosophy were both to be used for
living well, not just as a hobby or academic study.
3) Proactive living. This means conscious decision making, not
reacting out of habit. Careful consideration and critical thinking
are two other ways of saying the same thing. Each situation requires
its own deliberation and selection of options. This eliminates
rule-following unless the current deliberate choice just happens to
align with a rule.
4) Integration. A rational life would be one lived from a whole life
perspective, eliminating internal cross purposes. A rational person
would see things in an all-inclusive context, rather than as isolated
5) The above implies one, and one only, final end, or purpose, for
6) Rationality is an activity a person does, not something that is
acquired, whether that be a state of mind or some external thing. It
is a continuos on-going process, not what a person does in
but how he or she does things in general.
7) It is not just making the morally correct choice, it is
understanding why it is the morally correct choice to make.
Phronesis, commonly translated as practical reasoning, is very close
to what I see as Stoic rationality. Phronesis is not just using
reasoning in our day-to-day lives to more efficiently get what we
want, it is a consciously developed skill to reason well or correctly
in moral matters; ie, matters of value. And since this is a top
process that involves each and every decision, this means every
selection matters. Stoic Virtue is not limited to just typical moral
dilemma situations. No relaxing!!!
So, if reasoning is value neutral, how do we determine what we ought
The answer was: value what is in accordance with nature. And that
includes our individual nature, human nature, and universal nature.
Once we understand what our nature entails, then selecting the
indifferents from the available options that correspond with that
nature is living virtuously, or rationally. Part of living in
accordance with our nature will be using reasoning in this process,
but I am not convinced that's the entirety of it. The Stoics
identified Virtue, Rationality, and Nature with the Good, certainly a
value term. It seems we have the task of learning what both things
that accord with our nature and what things contrary to our nature
A final point: Too heavy a reliance on equating rationality with
left-brained (or is it right-brained???) analytical reasoning alone
denies half of ourselves. I don't believe the Stoics were this
From their unitary model of the mind I take rationality to be more
a fully functional harmonious mind that has integrated all of its
various potentials, including creativity, imagination, and emotion.
Rational comes from 'ratio' after all.
Aaron, I agree with you. Its better to keep in mind the dictum 'live
in accordance with nature'. While we figure out what our best nature
is, this at least gets us away from confusing different meanings of
rationality and reasoning. More research required.