Linguistic Choices

Why do I choose "less rational" instead of irrational? Answer: to avoid misunderstanding!

After few talks with my audience, I found people usually have their own understanding of "irrationality." The word always means a lack of reasoning and has a bad connotation. However, it's relatively easy to know what is rationality other than irrationality.

1. Rationality in Wikipedia and Google.

In Wikipedia, rationality is the quality or state of being reasonable, based on facts or reason. If you type "rational" in Google, you can see:

Based on the meaning, we always relate rationality to the right results. However, the synonyms are tricky. Is common-sense always right? What is judicious? What kind of reason is the good reason to do something? What are the standards of intelligence? 

When these subjective words change their meaning over time, do you still relate rationality to the right results?

2. Perfect rationality and bounded rationality.

Rationality also is used in economics and game theory.

In economics and game theory, it is sometimes assumed that agents have perfect rationality: that is, they always act in a way that maximizes their utility,

and are capable of arbitrarily complex deductions towards that end. They will always be capable of thinking through all possible outcomes and choosing that course of action which will result in the best possible outcome.

However, as a person can never be perfectly rational--So Herbert A. Simon proposed the concept of bounded rationality. Bounded rationality is the idea that when individuals make decisions, their rationality is limited by the tractability of the decision problem, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the time available to make the decision. 

The concept of bounded rationality is interesting to me because it seems like a voice that saying, ”Don’t try too hard to be perfectly rational, it’s impossible; it’s ok to have limits, and make the best out of it!” This is extremely interesting when it comes to negotiation— we never just calculate, we even take advantage of cognitive bias of both us and the other negotiator to get the best deal. 

3. Emotion of rationality

It might be weird to talk about the emotion of rationality, because people tend to see emotion as the counter part of rationality. But I do feel some emotion, everytime we say "be rational" to ourselves.

According to Philosophy professor He Xiu Huang from Chinese University of Hong Kong: 


Rational activities represent our attitude or emotion of being objective, restricting ourselves, and considering other people.

The idea of restricting self, can be conflictive and dangerous. Sometimes it’s an ignorance of our natural desire, sometimes it can be a guilty feeling of being aware of our most normal psychology defense mechanism.

To sum up, I think it's necessary to bring out the meaning of rationality for my thesis: