Morality and Rationality: The Big Why II

Continuing my thoughts based on the comments on this post:

* It seems that being rational helps us achieve our goals and needs, and actually puts an individual at an advantage, in contrast to morality, which apparently puts an individual at a disadvantage. So one might say to 'Why be rational?': 'Because it is good for us.' /'Because it works for us.'

* While morality apparently puts an individual at a disadvantage, it is advantageous to the society as a whole. A society in which individuals act morally is more likely to flourish and survive. Therefore, in answer to this question 'Why be moral?' an individual may have no answer, a society can definitely answer 'Because it is good for us.' / 'Because it works for us.' And if a society is moral, then indirectly, the individual would be forced to be moral.

* While rationality help us in practical matters, it is not always advantageous to the individual. Consider the example of an individual using rationality to discredit a religion in a society that is very strongly religious, and is condemned to be burned on the stake on the charge of apostasy. In this case, rationality is leading that individual to a painful death. And yet, there is something worthwhile and noble about this pursuit of 'truth' even when this puts you at a disadvantage. Very few individuals would actually be rational to this extent, and yet, I presume, most would see this act of sticking-to-rationality-in-the-face-of-death as something admirable. It wouldn't make sense unless some part of us believes that there is an inherent value in rationality, in 'truth'.

* I have suggested that rationality even in the absence of its utility is viewed as a worthwhile goal for its own sake. Morality, it seems, has much less utility for an individual, but even so, it is viewed as (/ought to be viewed as) a worthwhile goal for its own sake. That is where I believe the analogy lies.

* This is not a real philosophical answer to the questions that I had posited. It is just an evasion. What I say turns out to be something like this:

"Why be rational and moral?"
"Because they are worthwhile pursuits having inherent value."
"And why do they have inherent value?"
"Because this is what our intuitions tell us /Because that's what humans are programmed to believe."


Abdullah Khalid said…
You are actually wrong about points 3, and confused about point 1.

Epistemic rationality: the optimized methods of reaching true beliefs.
Instrumental rationality: the optimized methods of maximizing utility. (of your actions)

See, being more rational (both epistemic and instrumental) is by definition you approaching optimized decision procedures, and so would by definition give you an advantage.

However, it's not apparent that you must try to be rational. That depends on high the opportunity cost of trying to be more rational is.

In regards to point 3. If you consider the definition of instrumental rationality, you might believe that religion is wrong, but utility maximization (i.e. the decision procedures of a fully instrumentally rational agent) dictate that in a religious society you shut up and keep my beliefs to myself.
Awais Aftab said…
@ Abdullah

You have said it yourself. Only instrumental rationality is concerned with 'utility', epistemic rationality is concerned with 'truth'. And truth is not always advantageous.
Awais Aftab said…
And rationality for me is defined as 'the exercise of reason', and reason is 'the mental faculty that is able to generate conclusions from assumptions or premises'.
Butters said…
The distinction between pragmatic and epistemic rationality is important here (I mentioned it in the previous post as well).

As far as pragmatic rationality is concerned, I don't think one can seriously ask 'why be rational?'. As long as we have goals, being rational just means accomplishing those goals effectively.

But as far as epistemic rationality is concerned, there may be reason to be epistemically rational if it has practical benefit; and when it doesn't, truth-seeking can be considered part of morality IMO. It instantiates the virtue of wisdom (or wisdom-seeking, rather). In such cases, I would say there is no distinction between the 'why be (epistemically) rational?' question and the 'why be moral?' question.

This is a 'real philosophical answer' to your question. As for an answer to the 'why be moral?' question, the answer is quite simple:

We should be moral because being moral is part of flourishing, and flourishing leads to greater happiness/contentment/fulfillment than non-flourishing.
Awais Aftab said…
In such cases, I would say there is no distinction between the 'why be (epistemically) rational?' question and the 'why be moral?' question.

Ah. I really like this answer :) Very beautiful and elegant.