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The Uses And Limitations Of Reason In Gaining Knowledge

1611 words - 7 pages

The uses and limitations of Reason in gaining knowledge.

Reason is one of the main ways of knowing. To know is not just to be informed but to be critically aware of that information. Reason, as a tool, is the objective application of human cognitive ability to any and everything . Therefore,fundamental to this essay is the process of knowing anything, and the extent to which reason is applied in that knowing. I will attempt to explore one main question – ' how?' and in order to simplify, I shall attempt to put forth this exploration in the area of economics.

When we draw a graph on the cartesian plan explaining rational human behaviour, with ceteris paribus, we suppose the unreal to ...view middle of the document...

The 'cognitive ability' of humans is not independent of their surroundings and the effect of culture and climate, among other things, can greatly vary one's perception of rationality itself. To debunk this argument is to imitate the situation on a demand and supply graph in reality - keep all other factors constant and include all humans in that experiment and prove that rationality is the same for all! Herein lies the limiation of reason – the premise not verifiable for its truth! How can economists therefore build on a questionable premise, the very bedrock of an entire field of study?

Well, the counter question is – Why not? Aren't we all humans – whether from India or Singapore, aren't we all subject to the same emotions, the same needs – hunger, love, survival? Do we need any further verification of the premise of rational behaviour but the fact that we are, fundamentally, the very same inside? If we can have rights universalised for all humans, what is the problem in universalising the definition of rationality- don't we all just consider certain acts as reasonable and others as not reasonable – plain and simple, right?

Interesting, but the point is – is it really that simple?

The field of economics does not distinguish between similarity and congruency – it simply defines all humans as congruent in terms of rational behaviour; meet the Homo Economicus! So, even if you agree with the fact that there are certain human constants, one must take note of the other fact – there also certain human variables - like perception and emotion.

The same situation may evoke varied responses due to individual psychological factors which are clearly not uniform due to the diverse external influences on persons. If I see a person without money dying for water and I am the only seller of water, would I be economically rational and not part with the waer for free? Probably not. This is just one case wherein rationality in life differs from rationality of economic theory. Probably, if I did self – maximization, the person could have died! Hence, rationality is limited and case specific, something that economics does not fully account for.
Rationality is something broadly similar across time and space, but the inseparable nature of reason from other factors in reality, and the separation of all those other factors from reason on paper leads to a divorce – thus the very reason that economic theory bases itself on, can often make it unreasonable!

Nevertheless, assuming that rationality was a universally definable quality, I am still forced to wonder whether self-interest maximization is the only force that drives us? The Homo Economicus, central to economic theory, does not care about anything but him/her own self – is it rational to even assume that this is what rational behaviour means? Any generalisation comes to tatters with just one exception – and here we find that the very nature of man being a social animal and cooperating with...

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