Defining rational as “everything I already think”

Another mistake I’ve noticed in this game of I Am More Rational Than You is judging the officially correct degree of emotionality to be…oh what a coincidence: it turns out to be the degree one has oneself.

You know? As in, “I am very rational, as any fule kno, and I am not very emotional except that I get irritable a lot. Obviously that is the right amount and quality of emotion to have. Any other amount and quality is mistaken and to be reprobated.”

Well it’s a natural mistake to make. We all see things through our own eyeballs and not anyone else’s. But…at the same time, it’s part of rationality to be aware of that tendency and to try to correct for it, along with all the other solipsistic tendencies we naturally have.

Seven of Mine made a related point on PZ’s post:

they’re just assuming their argument is sound because they’re unconsciously defining rational as “everything I already think” and irrational as “everything else.”

Exactly. That kind of thing. Correct for that, or you’ll find yourself in the weeds.


  1. says

    Dawkins does a whole lot of that, doesn’t he? He even started the “ranking rape” thing by saying words to the effect of “if you disagree with me, go learn how to think”. He can claim up and down until he’s blue in the face that he was just trying to start an emotion-free conversation, but that’s a complete lie when he shut down any disagreement as irrational before the discussion could even begin.

  2. Stacy says

    “I don’t even want to HEAR what you have to say about Rebecca Watson, as she has offended me grievously.* Which is totes rational and not emotion-based, because it’s me saying it. Anyway, feels provoked by someone of my eminence being criticized by a blue-haired youngster are valid and in no way prohibit me from being coolly rational. ”

    * Actual paraphrase of something actually said to me by the actual Richard Dawkins. “She has offended me grievously” were his words.

  3. says

    The thing about Dawkins and his ilk is that they’re ALL emotion and don’t have a very good handle on their emotions at all. The fact that they express their overwhelming feelings in big words and long posts doesn’t change the truth of it. Dawkins can apply a thin veneer of “logic” all he wants, but I’m not fooled for a minute. He has temper tantrums every time he’s told that he’s wrong, and he uncritically embraces people who tell him he’s 100% right and more or less infallible in the face of legitimate criticism.

  4. says

    That is so disturbingly familiar.

    Something I’ve wanted to say… shout, maybe even scream, so, so often. (Directed primarily at my ex, and into the aether.)

    I’m sorry.
    I’m sorry for being human.
    I’m sorry for doing human things, like having emotions, and being affected by them.
    I’m NOT sorry that I can’t be cold and “rational” — I REFUSE to be a monster.
    I CAN’T just stop feeling.
    And I WON’T.

  5. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    At least some credit for that observation should go to A. Noyd for this comment in which they articulated something I’d been struggling to put into words for some time. They described the whole exchange as Dawkins insisting his argument is valid in the face of critics agreeing that yes, it’s valid but it’s not sound. It made a lightbulb go off in my head that this is what I’ve been trying to express every time someone well-respected for their anti-religion arguments puts their foot in it when they try to talk outside their area of expertise.

  6. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm @6:
    Good points. My wife, who is a computer programmer, is very good at logic, and uses truth tables formally in her programming to often reduce lines of code for conditionals (it’s pretty impressive, to me!). She often likes to point out to internet Spock wannabes that if one starts with an untrue premise, there are almost always ‘true’ results…or something like that. I suck at truth tables. :p

  7. says

    I think Dawkins was taking the position (or claiming to take the position) that the logic of his statement was unassailable. Ergo
    1) Anyone criticizing the logic was irrational
    2) Anyone criticizing it on grounds other than logic was irrational — illogical — by definition. He may or may not have realized that the specific example he chose was inflammatory, but to him, that doesn’t matter.

    Less charitably, (part of) his point was “when you take a logically unassailable statement, and put emotionally affecting words in place of Boolean variables, people get all upset, proving that emotion eclipses logic.” Which, among other problems, ignores that no one actually said “the statement was perfectly logical when ranking X and Y, but illogical when ranking different kinds of rape.”

  8. John Morales says

    Quite nuanced, someone sometimes is; for example: sometimes X is bad… but it’s zero bad.

  9. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    Crimson Clupeidae @ 7

    She often likes to point out to internet Spock wannabes that if one starts with an untrue premise, there are almost always ‘true’ results…or something like that. I suck at truth tables. :p

    I think what you mean is that, if you have an argument which is valid but not sound, you end up with a conclusion that follows necessarily from the premises as it’s supposed to but is not actually correct (or if it is, it’s only by accident)? If so yes, that’s exactly what I was getting at. It’s as if people like Dawkins are just never questioning the soundness of their arguments because they’re just that bloody certain that they only believe true things.

  10. John Morales says

    Seven of Mine, Dawkins made no logical argument, rather he asserted a proposition.


  11. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Defining rational as “everything I already think.”

    Don’t we all do that to some extent? (Moi? Mea culpa.)

    Oh & we’re also all emotional and biased by our own experiences and opinions as well I think too.

    Part of human nature. Though I could be wrong. (& have been in the past and will be in the future and who knows? Also may be right on occassion too.)

  12. Athywren says

    While I realise that displaying emotion in any form results in an automatic lock in unless the team decide to spend a crystal to get me out, it really upsets me to see so much of this Spockist bullshit.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much a fan of Spock as any nerd in their mid twenties might be, and Vulcans in general are pretty cool in their own way, but the total purging of all emotion is a massive minterpretation of Surak’s teachings. True, emotion and logic are uneasy allies, and we must be careful of emotion running free when we need to be logical, but denying the emotional no more elevates the logical than denying the carnal elevates the spiritual. If you’re emotionlessly using well formulated but poor logic to reach or support your conclusions, you’re in as much trouble as if you were allowing emotional arguments to rule over your reasoning.
    If we must purge anything, it should be belief in the worth of our own arguments. We should judge our own arguments as harshly as those of any creationist or dowser, be alert for signs of fallacies creeping into our own thinking. If anything, it seems as if those who like to play Vulcan, rather than becoming more capable of excising fallacies from their arguments, simply become more confident that they won’t be there to begin with.

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