The aim of rationality


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I'm sure you must be familiar with this idea:

"The three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics ... are: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem, with their three corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride."

Pride is productive of self-esteem. Productiveness is productive of one's productive purposes. So why is reason the goal of rationality instead of wisdom?

Rationality is productive of wisdom. It seems that wisdom is what one desires in being rational. Reason is already contained in the act of rationality -- it does not appear to be an aim, in the sense of a product.

Do you see where I am going with this train of thought? Why did Rand choose reason over wisdom as the aim of rationality, and do you think she made the correct choice?

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Mark, I think that wisdom is the product of more than just rationality. It is a composite character trait, one to be valued for sure, that is the result of experience, knowledge, and good judgment (i.e., rationality).

It is a little tricky to connect the cardinal values and virtues. Some "chewing" is in order. Feel free to challenge or add to the following.

I think that in calling "reason" a cardinal value of Objectivism, Rand is saying that thinking is central to our survival, and that achieving and maintaining (when appropriate) a process of thought is an extremely high value for Objectivism.

All the virtues are recognitions of some fact important to survival. Rationality, as a virtue, means that we recognize and accept that reason is our ONLY tool of survival. This recognition and acceptance is the action by which we achieve the value of reason.

If we did NOT recognize and accept the role of reason in our survival, we could (more easily) be led astray, into using other processes (e.g., faith, emotion, hunches) in survival. To that extent, we would not achieve reason; we would not use thinking in the service of our survival.

Of course, it took a very wise -- experienced, knowledgeable, and rational -- philosopher to realize this and to formulate it as a system of ethics. But then, that is what philosophy -- love of wisdom -- is all about!

REB

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Thank you for the thoughtful reply to my question. You've given me some interesting issues to ponder.

There's just one thing that puzzles me about your response, though.

Mark, I think that wisdom is the product of more than just rationality. It is a composite character trait, one to be valued for sure, that is the result of experience, knowledge, and good judgment (i.e., rationality).

Experience -- I assume you mean prior life experience -- and knowledge are presumably also produced by rationality. One expects that rationality does not act in a vacuum; it makes use of information it gathers from present awareness and/or past knowledge/experience. Acting in the world over time is not an activity separate from rationality. It seems a little odd to my mind to count experience and knowledge as something additional to rationality.

Are you suggesting that there could be a rationality "by itself", perhaps acting only on present awareness? But I can't imagine anything like that, unless it was some form of meditation.

It still seems to me that wisdom is fully a product of rationality, if we understand that use of the materials that rationality works with is part of its function. Or am I missing something here?

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The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that wisdom is not a value, but a virtue. That is certainly how the ancients viewed it. Wisdom was kind of a capstone virtue to Plato. As such, perhaps it is not the product of rationality, but instead simply another way of referring to rationality, a synonym of sorts.

Consider how Rand refers to rationality as a virtue in The Objectivist Ethics. She says that "the virtue of Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action." A rational person, one possessed of the virtue of rationality, recognizes and accepts these things about reason.

OK, now plug in "wisdom" in place of "rationality": "the virtue of Wisdom means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action." A wise person, one possessed of the virtue of wisdom, recognizes and accepts these things about reason.

You can go down through the rest of that page and onto the next, and you can see that "wisdom" means all of the other things that Rand says "rationality" means. From this, I conclude not that wisdom is a cardinal value of Objectivism, but in fact is simply a stand-in for rationality.

And actually, when I reflect on the dictionary definition for "wisdom," it seems even clearer that this is so. If a wise person, a person possessing the virtue of wisdom, is experienced, knowledgeable, and possessed of good judgment, then that is also a person who is rational, possessing the virtue of rationality.

Wisdom and/or rationality is the virtue by which we adhere to the value of reason, the value of thinking in the service of our survival. To the extent that we deviate from this virtue, to the extent that we fail to consistently "recognize and accept reason" as our means of survival, we are falling short of the valued state of being reasoning survivors. Wisdom and/or rationality is the means by which we adhere to reason, our means of survival. (A virtue is the means, the act by which we obtain a value, according to Rand's definition on p. 27 of "The Objectivist Ethics.")

In short, I don't think you can replace reason with wisdom, but it looks like you can replace rationality with wisdom, in the sense that wisdom is not a value, but a virtue. In fact, I am curious why Rand did not do so. It would have been less confusing and repetitive to use "wise" and "wisdom" than "rationality." Perhaps "wise" and "wisdom" were a bit too soft or vague for her taste. Perhaps they connoted an older person; I don't know too many "wise" teenagers (except the rare few who are "wise beyond their years"), while more of them could reasonably be called "rational."

REB

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The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that wisdom is not a value, but a virtue.

It certainly could be viewed that way, and I agree that the ancients did so. Of course, I was thinking about wisdom as a body of knowledge, not as the disposition of the wise person to act wisely, but your point is well taken.

I don't know too many "wise" teenagers (except the rare few who are "wise beyond their years"), while more of them could reasonably be called "rational."

This is a good example for why I viewed wisdom, in one sense at least, as a body of knowledge, and therefore a value. The rational person aims at growing in wisdom (acquiring knowledge learned from experience), and so to be progressively more able to act wisely. We may, of course, view the disposition to act wisely the virtue of wisdom, but this would make for a double-meaning.

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Knowledge and experience are components of wisdom.

I view wisdom as a evolved-into state of consciousness.

With age often comes wisdom. It's true from a real basic standpoint, in terms of how a person, as they age, turns to referencing the many accumulated memories, experiences. It is a change of perspective.

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I view wisdom as a evolved-into state of consciousness.

That is a reasonable view. It seems that wisdom viewed in this way could be considered both a virtue and a value. Interesting.

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