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Intellectual Ammunition

Low-quality thinking on "rationality": A chronological index of highly-relevant quotes
by Ed Thompson

INTRODUCTION:

Ed Thompson (b. 1968)
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It takes deeper or wider understanding to identify the short-sightedness or narrow-mindedness of inferior thought.—Ed Thompson, 2008
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RATIONALITY (WELL UNDERSTOOD):

Ayn Rand (b. 1905)
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Irrationality is the rejection of man's means of survival and, therefore, a commitment to a course of blind destruction; that which is anti-mind, is anti-life.

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. …

It means a commitment to the principle that all of one's convictions, values, goals, desires and actions must be based on, derived from, chosen and validated by a process of thought—as precise and scrupulous a process of thought, directed by as ruthlessly strict an application of logic, as one's fullest capacity permits.

It means one's acceptance of the responsibility of forming one's own judgments and of living by the work of one's own mind (which is the virtue of Independence). It means that one must never sacrifice one's convictions to the opinions or wishes of others (which is the virtue of Integrity)—that one must never attempt to fake reality in any manner (which is the virtue of Honesty)—that one must never seek or grant the unearned and undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit (which is the virtue of Justice). …

It means a commitment to reason, not in sporadic fits or on selected issues or in special emergencies, but as a permanent way of life.—“The Objectivist Ethics”, VOS, 440
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RATIONALITY (POORLY UNDERSTOOD)

Plato (b. 428 BC?)
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Since, then, these things never, any of them, appear as the same things, which form of them can one maintain to be this, as being whatever it is, and not something else, without being ashamed of oneself? ... For they escape and do not wait to be referred to as 'this' or 'that' ... or by any expression that displays them as existent things.--Timaeus, 49B
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Plato’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that there are mystical True Forms of reality, and that all of the particular instantiations of these True Forms – the existents which humans discover and integrate through direct perception and right reasoning – are of limited value BECAUSE they are “existent things.”


David Hume (b. 1711)
Exhibit A
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Our reason must be consider'd as a kind of cause, of which truth is the natural effect; but such-a-one as by the irruption of other causes, and by the inconstancy of our mental powers, may frequently be prevented. By this means all knowledge degenerates into probability ...--A Treatise of Human Nature, p. 180
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Hume’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that if you’re not omniscient, then you can’t really know anything at all.

Exhibit B
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‘Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. ‘Tis not contrary to reason for me to chuse my total ruin, to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or personal wholly unknown to me.--A Treatise of Human Nature, p. 416
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Hume’s second thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that reason isn’t our tool for gaining or keeping value.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau (b. 1712)
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When woman complains on this score about unjust man-made inequality, she is wrong. This inequality is not a human institution – or, at least, it is the work not of prejudice but of reason.—Emile or on education, trans. Allan Bloom, p. 361
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Rousseau’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that reason is a concrete-bound, passive process where nature imprints the right order of things in our minds, and our job is only to remember to apply what’s been naturally imprinted in all new contexts which merely crudely associate with the contexts found in nature.


Immanuel Kant (b. 1724)
Exhibit A
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Thus the order and regularity in the appearances, which we entitle nature, we ourselves introduce.--Critique of Pure Reason, trans. N. Kemp Smith, A 125
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Kant’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that you can’t really know anything at all.

Exhibit B
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This causality of reason we do not regard as only a co-operating agency, but as complete in itself, even when the sensuous impulses do not favour but are directly opposed to it; the action is ascribed to the agent’s intelligible character; in the moment when he utters the lie, the guilt is entirely his. Reason, irrespective of all empirical conditions of the act,, is completely free, and the lie is entirely due to its default.--Critique of Pure Reason, trans. N. Kemp Smith, A 554/B 582
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Kant’s second thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that there is such a thing as pure reason-in-itself – completely divorced from the casuistry associated with actual “reasoners.”


Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (b. 1742)
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Reasons are for the most part only an augmented form of the pretensions by which we seek to defend a course of conduct that we should in any case have pursued, and to lend an air of legitimacy and reasonableness.
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Lichtenberg’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that most things that we – after the fact – can “know” we should have pursued, shouldn’t have been preceded – before the fact – with thought or reasoning; because, for humans, reason is something paralyzing (rather than something empowering).


Jeremy Bentham (b. 1748)
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… a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversible animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old.—An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation (Collected works), 283
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Bentham’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that rationality isn’t what Anthony Kelly (b. 1931) referred to as the mind: “the capacity to acquire intellectual abilities”; “a capacity for capacities”; “a capacity at a further remove from actualization”


William James (b. 1842)
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'The true', to put it briefly, is only the expedient in our way of thinking, just as 'the right' is only the expedient in the way of our behaving. Expedient in almost any fashion; ... for what meets expediently all the experience in sight won't necessarily meet all farther experiences equally satisfactorily.--Pragmatism: A New Way for Some Old Ways of Thinking, p. 222
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William James’ thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that you can’t build up a growing body of knowledge.


Friedrich Nietzsche (b. 1844)
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That the world is not the embodiment of an eternal rationality can be conclusively proved by the fact that the piece of the world that we know—I mean our human reason—is not so very rational.-- The Wanderer and His Shadow, aphorism 2, “The World’s Reason,” (1880).
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Nietzsche’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that human reason is, at root, irrational.


Miguel De Unamuno (b. 1864)
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… there are many of us who, unconvinced by Hegel, continue to believe that the real, the really real, is irrational, that reason builds upon irrationalities.—The tragic sense of life, 5
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De Unamuno’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that human reason is, at root, irrational.


Emmanuel Levinas (b. 1906)
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What could an entirely rational being speak of with another entirely rational being?—Totality and infinity, p.119
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Levinas’ thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that useful communication requires a measure of irrationality – because full rationality was supposed to entail omniscience (integration of all facts and planned projects), rather than the integration of the individual facts of which an individual has become aware; and only the projects that one has personally planned (instead of all the projects that anyone has planned).


Maurice Merleau-Ponty (b. 1908)
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The most important accomplishment of phenomenology is, without a doubt, to have joined extreme subjectivism and extreme objectivism in its notion of … rationality.—Phenomenology of perception, trans. Colin Smith, xix
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Merleau-Ponty’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that “extreme subjectivism” – i.e., solipsism – is required for rationality.


Paul Feyerabend (b. 1924)
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Copernicanism and other essential ingredients of modern science survived only because reason was frequently overruled in their past.-- Against Method, p. 106 (1975).
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Feyerabend’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that scientific progress requires Kuhnian paradigm shifts.


Jacques Derrida (b. 1930)
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I philosophize only in terror, but in the confessed terror of going mad. … But this crisis in which reason is madder than madness – for reason is non-meaning and oblivion – and in which madness is more rational than reason, for it is closer to the wellspring of sense, however silent and murmuring.—Writing and difference, trans. Alan Bass, 62
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Derrida’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that madness is more rational than reason.


D. H. Mellor (b. 1938)
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Appeals to rationality are mostly bluff. There is no good theory of what it is nor of how to recognize it.—“Objective decision making”, Social Theory and Practice (1983), 289
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Mellor’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that Rand’s “good theory” of what rationality is (above; as published in VOR more than a decade earlier than the date of this quote) was something that either didn’t exist -- or didn’t show the reader how to recognize rationality.


Catherine A. MacKinnon (b. 1946)
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Since rationality is measured by point-of-viewlessness, what counts as reason is that which corresponds to the way things are. Practical rationality, in this approach, means that which can be done without changing anything.—Toward a feminist theory of the state, 161
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MacKinnon’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that rationality is a platonic, disembodied Ideal – a synoptic, or God’s-eye view of the totality of things -- rather than a capacity always and only exercised by individual humans.


Michele Le Doeuff (b. 1948)
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Today it is possible to think of rationality otherwise than in a hegemonic [i.e., influential] mode. … It is what we struggle for …
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Le Doeuff’s thinking error:
Erroneous belief (rather than a “knowledge”) that rationality limits us.
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