Rationality Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: Rationality explores the concept of ration as the pylon of all human progress and how it sets us apart from all other species, helping us evolve and developing societal layers, rules of conduct, and moral grounds for all our endeavors in life.

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Rationality Summary

Rationality comes from the latin word “ratio”, which means reason. But what does this concept truly mean? Philosophers and scientists have tried restlessly to come up with a viable explanation of what being a human means, and the common conception revolves around having ration at the core of our being. In other words, rationality is what sets us apart from all other species. 

Being a rational being implies using your consciousness to overcome obstacles and challenges, among others. Unlike animals, humans can see beyond the obstacles that they face, and not just from a metaphorical point of view. We can use our mind to change circumstances and attain our desired outcome. Give an animal a hard time finding their favorite toy by covering it or obviously hiding it under something, and they can’t wrap their head around it.

Rationality by Steven Pinker delves deep into the philosophy of being and what it means to be a human. Using ration to meet end goals, face challenges on the way, decide between alternatives, and feel certain emotions, are just some of the characteristics of a rational being. Throughout the course of this summary, we’ll explore them and even more interesting aspects of what it means to be human.

Here are my three favorite lessons from the book:

  1. Humans are not always rational, which is why we need institutions.
  2. Being considerate and moral allows us to coexist, so adopting these traits is only rational. 
  3. Use self-constraint and ignorance in your favor.

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Lesson 1: Institutions are in place to help people be objective and rational.

In life, we’re all trying to get as close as possible to the absolute truth. Whether we’re talking about personal aspirations, the meaning of life, or any other end goal whatsoever, we have a tendency to look for a perfect state of being. Rationality helps us to get closer to this state of existence, but since we’re all flawed individuals, we still have a long way to go till we reach that point.

For this reason, institutions were created. They help us be more objective and more rational when we stray from the right path, or so it should be. If all humans were perfect, meaning less self-absorbed, more considerate of their neighbors, and without the tendency to destroy everything for their personal well-being, institutions wouldn’t exist. Since we’re not built that way, they help us coexist in peace and be more objective.

In every field, institutions find their way into our lives. Take the educational system as an example. Anonymous peer reviews help people achieve goals based on merit by eliminating subjectivity. In the public sphere, they help us share opinions freely. In law, they help us achieve justice. Therefore, in our search for the absolute truth and a flawless way of living, institutions help us stay on track.

Lesson 2: We are moral beings because it is rational.

Institutions help us live in peace and live a better life. But how does it all work out in fact? We comply with them and the moral principles that guide us because it is rational. As humans, we have two definitory characteristics: we are social animals and we always have our best interests at heart. If thrown into nature one day with no rules of conduct, everyone would look after their own survival

It’s just the way we’re programmed to function, so there’s nothing wrong with that. Still, we’ve managed to evolve into more than that, as we have rules to follow and consequences to face now. Again, they’re anchored in rationality. If we see that others are being punished for not respecting the rules of conduct, we are less likely to repeat their mistakes. 

What’s also rational is to live in a society, because at the end of the day, it benefits us. We need social interactions to function, and so we’re doing ourselves a favor as well. Still, to live in a society implies being moral, considerate, and having empathy, so we do just that. Therefore, we choose to be moral beings because it is the rational thing to do to ensure our well-being.

Lesson 3: Ignorance and self-constraint can prove to be rational choices in life if you use them to help yourself.

Although it may sound like bad advice, sometimes it’s best to be ignorant. Yes, that’s right! Ignorance is bliss. Let’s say you have a strong genetic inclination to develop a horrible illness later in life. Some of your relatives may already have it, which makes you think about running some tests to find out how your life will turn out eventually. Still, what if you didn’t know?

After all, if chances are you’ll develop it anyways, it’s best to live your life without this thought hovering over you, right? Well, it really depends on the disease, if it’s treatable or not. Although this is an extreme example, and it’s always best to carry out annual lab tests for prevention purposes, sometimes not knowing is the best thing that can happen to you

Self-constraint is another counterintuitive thing that you can do to improve your life. People trust themselves way too much, and think that their willpower will thrive in any circumstance. Sadly, that’s not the case. If you’re on a diet and feel motivated to carry out your weight-loss journey successfully, but end up being face-to-face with your favorite treat, chances are you’ll go for it, only to regret it later on.

The best way to avoid falling into the trap is to try not to expose yourself to the temptation. If you think about indulging yourself, try to fight it and prevent yourself from acting on it. In the end, this is the rational choice, because it’ll benefit you, and you know it. That is why you want to fight your unhealthy urges as well.

Rationality Review

Rationality is an extended lesson on human nature and the psychology of our species. This book explains how we’re programmed to function and how we go through life following what’s rational to our brain. In the end, everything we do is rational in a way or another, as we’re ultimately seeking to ensure our survival and well-being with every action we undertake.

Who would I recommend the Rationality summary to?

The 40-year-old person interested in philosophy and social sciences, the 30-year-old who works with people and wants to understand more about human nature, or the 22-year-old psychology student who wants to expand their knowledge outside their curriculum.

Last Updated on May 19, 2023

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Maria Deac

While working with my friend Ovi's company SocialBee, I had the good fortune of Maria writing over 200 summaries for us over the course of 18 months. Maria is a professional SEO copywriter, content writer, and social media marketing specialist. When she's not writing or learning more about marketing, she loves to dance and travel all over the world.