rationality and advancement

George Snedeker snedeker at SPAMconcentric.net
Sat Feb 17 12:44:40 MST 2001

Andrew and Scott have made reference to "rationality" in recent posts. we,
on the Left, often say that capitalism is irrational because it creates both
wealth and poverty at the same time. however, I am not sure what we mean
when we say that some cultures are more rational than others. do we mean
that we succeed to dominate nature better through the use of science and
mathematical reason? is it that we feed more people and provide more
shelter? I am simply asking for the criteria for the notion of rationality.

Max Weber made the distinction between traditional and purposive
rationality. traditional rationality means that if you believe in the
Christian God and your child is sick, you will pray for her recovery.
praying is a rational act if one believes. purposive rationality refers to
means and ends actions. if I want to get to Florida quickly, I can take a
plane. or to use the sick child example, I will take her to the doctor. a
rational civilization for Weber was one which is based on rational
calculation as a way of life.

what would "rational" mean to Marx? is it only defined by an improvement in
the productive forces? I think not. in some ways, capitalism is more
rational than feudalism. it develops more  productive forces and makes
better use of science and technology.

in his post, Scott uses the term "rational" several times as if we were sure
what this term refers to. Andrew uses "rational" as the negation of
creativity. this seems more than a little romantic.

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