I just started reading this book, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? by Alasdair MacIntyre and based on the intro alone I can already tell that I’m going to love it. That intro brings up a main point of the book that on reflection seems so obvious but I don’t think is considered almost ever: there is no single version of rationality. We tend to think that if everyone were logical, there would largely be consensus around important issues, and that the biggest hindrance around arriving at consensus is the fact that many (most?) people are illogical or irrational in their views. If we could somehow stamp out irrationality in society there would be consensus about what was right and what to do.

This view I think permeates pop culture also. I’m thinking about things like the old Star Trek, where Vulcans represented pure logic. The Vulcan view was frequently presented as being singular – there is one true logical view. I suspect we tend to think this a lot, and one way it comes out is we think people who disagree with us aren’t being logical.

The problem with this view is that it’s obviously not true. MacIntyre points to the clear example of the academy. Look at the collective university philosophy departments around the world. They’re highly logical and rational. And yet there’s no such thing as consensus on virtually any important philosophical issue. What their rational training does allow them to do is clearly understand and elucidate the differences between different views. But it doesn’t lead to consensus. And that’s because there’s no such thing as a singularly true rational view. There are always multiple views that are fully rational. It might be different in regards to something like the scientific interpretation of data. But anything regarding values, things like ethics, morality, or justice, there is no one true logical viewpoint.

Recognizing this I think is reason for all sides to be a little less arrogant about their values. Other people disagreeing with you doesn’t necessarily mean they’re irrational. It could just mean they have a different but equally rational value system.

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