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Lukes Some Problems About Rationality Notes

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Steven Lukes - Some Problems about Rationality


Problem: when I come across a set of beliefs which appear prima facie irrational (e.g. in other, 'primitive' cultures), what should be my attitude towards them?
* are there alternative standards of rationality?
Five possible answers to the problem:
* 1. ostensible irrationality doesn't matter, because the beliefs are symbolic
# they are a way of describing real human behaviour or relations
# religion etc can be taken as real because it is true in its context
* we are concerned with relevance of beliefs, not their ultimate validity
# so we can dodge the question, because it is nonsensical, irrelevant or misdirected
* 2. we can apply criteria to modern and primitive beliefs which leave the latter looking quite incomprehensible
# we can never know the rationality or irrationality of other cultures because the origins of beliefs etc are untraceable
* 3. primitive magical/religious beliefs are attempts to explain phenomena, so they can satisfy rationality by virtue of their rational procedures of though/observation
# they can, however, be mistaken, and be judged as unsuccessful explanations (when compared to e.g. science)
# magic and science have procedure in common - classification of phenomena by the similarities that exist between them
* the difference is that the magician characterises the connection between similar phenomena as mystical, whereas it is simply an ideal connection in the magician's mind (it is subjective and not objective)
* both aim at grasping causal connections
* science is better in this respect
# difference exists between closed and open cultures (shaky ground?)
* closed cultures have lack of awareness of alternatives, sacredness of beliefs, and anxiety about threats to them
* open cultures do not have these features
# so, this answer is characterised by the belief that prima facie irrational beliefs can be rational in method, purpose and form, though unscientific and irrational in content
* 4. primitive belief systems are coherent (intellectually or logically?), but may fail to accord with reality, may not accord with the rules of logic (Levy-Bruhl)
# Levi-Bruhl seems to want to suggest that the coherence may be logical - different patterns of thought do not mean different reasoning
* does this imply relativism of the rules of logic?
# seems to be an uneasy compromise between claiming that primitive (and prelogical) beliefs are on our standards irrational, but on other standards they are about real phenomena and are logical
* 5. irrational belief systems in primitive societies should be interpreted as rational according to contextually given criteria of rationality
# accounts that judge primitive versus scientific beliefs rest on the false idea that there is an objective reality that one agrees with, and the other doesn't
* what counts as real depends on the context and language used
* when a scientist attacks primitive belief systems, he assumes that the primitive societies are attempting to gain a scientific understanding of the

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