Rationality - Mr Spock An Impossible Reality:
Professor Alex Kacelnik, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford has recently written about rationality in animals. For the purposes of clarity he divides rationality into three categories, derived from his perception of the main uses in Philosophy and Psychology (PP-rationality), in Economics (E-rationality) and in Evolutionary Biology (B-rationality). In his discussions, he gives the example of how rationality may be compromised in human chess players.
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy’s entry for “Rationality”:
This is a feature of cognitive agents that they exhibit when they adopt beliefs on the basis of appropriate reasons […] Aristotle maintained that rationality is the key that distinguishes human beings from other animals. […] A stone or a tree is non-rational because it is not capable of carrying out rational assessment. A being who is capable of being rational but who regularly violates the principles of rational assessment is irrational. […] Rational beliefs have also been contrasted with beliefs arrived at through emotion, faith, authority or by an arbitrary choice. (Brown 1995, p. 744)
The difficulties with PP-rationality are not limited to research with non-human animals. Many processes that give rise to the beliefs held by human subjects are in fact inaccessible to the holders of these beliefs, making it very hard to determine whether a belief has been arrived at on the basis of appropriate reasons. The hundred or so possibilities that chess masters are aware of examining before each actual move are a small subset of the available legal moves (de Groot 1965; Simon and Schaeffer 1992). It is likely that this subset is determined by unconscious processes that delve into the 50000 or so positions chess masters remember, and that choices are often made under the irrational influence of emotional or aesthetic factors without the player being aware of their influence or of their access to her full knowledge base of chess positions. Thus, even if the whole process ends in the belief that a given move is best, and if the player feels that she has arrived at this conclusion by reasoning, the elements that entered into her reasoning process may have been influenced by the kinds of mechanism that the present definition would explicitly exclude from rationality. If, say, the player has acquired a Pavlovian aversion to a given position because she saw it while she had a toothache, then she will play so as to avoid it, and in doing so, she will be influenced irrationally by her knowledge base, though this influence and the active parts of her knowledge base may be unconscious.
Rational Animals? Matthew Nudds and Susan Hurley, editors; Oxford University Press (2006).
Chapter 2. Meanings of rationality
Alex Kacelnik, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford