[OPE-L] The role of irrational beliefs

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Apr 19 2006 - 14:45:10 EDT

Rakesh wrote:

Was Marx's commitment to a rational theory of society
predicated on a rationalistic view of human
behavior? For Sorel  revolutionary politics is impossible without
appeal to the irrational bases of human motivation. But then
what is rational and irrational in human behavior? Is rational behavior
in fact foolish?

The best answer to the first question is I think probably Marx's 8th thesis
on Feuerbach: "All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which
lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice, and
in the comprehension of this practice." This suggests to me among other
things (1) a "loose" or "broad" definition of the rationality of practical
action in terms of purposive behaviour which consciously applies certain
means to achieve certain ends. (When action is decried as "irrational", it
is usually because the means or ends - or the relationship between them -
are disagreed with). (2) That human practice can be rationally understood
because it is subject to necessary relations and therefore has a certain
"logic" (rationality) to it. (3) That if it is understood, the mystique

Of course, the belief that you can rationally understand behaviour (in order
to change it) does not imply that all behaviour is necessarily rational. And
just because somebody cannot easily supply an articulate, elaborate
inferential system to explain his behaviour, doesn't mean it is not rational
behaviour. If you appeal to to the irrational bases of human motivation in
politics, you get a politics of moods and feelings, but very little results
out of that, and little can be concluded from it. Sorel seems to think that
moods, feelings and instincts are irrational, but they may in fact be a very
reasonable response to a situation, and explicable in causal terms. The
analytical difficulty is usually in ideological rationalisations for moods,
feelings and instincts, which may mask what is really happening.

The "irrational" aspect of human behaviour could I think be described
simply - to recall Jerry's idea - by saying that people often do things
without knowing truly why they do them, or what truly motivates them - they
might know that only retrospectively. Which suggests that in practice they
do often do not need to know this, until the situation forces them to think
things through. Marx was fond of quoting Goethe, "Im Anfang war die Tat",
i.e. people will do things and only later become fully aware of the why's
and wherefore's; they have to act on the basis of imperfect knowledge, if
only to survive.

Rational behaviour could I think be judged "foolish" if the means, the ends
and the relationship between them are placed in a broader context, or if a
rational response is simply inappropriate in a situation which calls for an
unreasoned, spontaneous response.


'Tis written: "In the beginning was the Word!"
Here now I'm balked! Who now will help afford ?
It is impossible, the Word so high to prize,
I must translate it otherwise
If I am rightly by the Spirit taught.
'Tis written: In the beginning was the Thought!
Consider well that line, the first you see,
That your pen may not write too hastily!
Is it then Thought that works, creative, hour by hour?
Thus should it stand: In the beginning was the Power!
Yet even while I write this word, I falter,
For something warns me, this too I shall alter.
The Spirit's helping me! I see now what I need
And write assured: In the beginning was the Deed!

- Goethe, Faust

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