Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Popular Myth About Rational Thinking

It is common for people to use the term logic as if it is synonymous with rational thinking. Rationality consists of scientific cognition and cognitive reflection. Logic is a component of scientific cognition, but logic alone does not mean rationality. Cognitive reflection involves analytical thinking (a component of Type 2 processing) that reflects overriding fast, incorrect thinking responses.

Stanovich asserts that there at least  2 common myths associated with rationality 1. That there is not much more to rational thinking than logical thinking  2. That emotions are inherently irrational
"Dictionary definitions of rationality tend to be rather lame and unspecific (“the state or quality of being in accord with reason”), and some critics who wish to downplay the importance of rationality have promulgated a caricature of rationality that involves restricting its definition to not more than the ability to do the syllogistic reasoning problems that are encountered in Philosophy 101" (Hale, 2018 )

Logicians study the structure of argument in the form of syllogisms. A syllogism is laid out as a list of premises and a conclusion that may or may not follow from premises. A syllogism is valid if conclusion necessarily follows from the premises. When the syllogism is invalid the conclusion can be false even if the premises are true. Syllogistic reasoning is often difficult and response is heavily influenced by wording of syllogism. The validity of syllogism depends on the form, not on the specific terms being used.  Consider the following- is it valid?

"If it rains, Judy takes the train
Judy took the train today.
Therefore it rained."
Baron, 2008- Thinking and Deciding

The above syllogism looks good? However, Judy might also take the train when it snows or might take the train for other reasons; thus, the syllogism is invalid. Syllogisms involve formal logic; they are not a complete theory of thinking, and only a portion of critical thinking / rational thinking. It is reasonable to suggest that one of, if not the biggest myth about rationality is that rationality is synonymous with logic.
In my book - In EvidenceWe Trust 2nd Edition -chapter 2 covers rationality as in terms of cognitive science.   
Suggested reading:
Emotion influences rationality