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The rational animal?

  1. Apr 13, 2004 #1
    Most of you have probably heard a phrase along the lines of "man the rational animal". I think that it is fairly obvious that this phrase is meant to refer to the the idea that man has rational abilities, not that he is impervious to irrational emotions. Perhaps it is supposed to suggest that man's rational abilities are stronger than his emotional biases.

    However, have you ever heard the phrase, "dog the rational animal" or "red-butted lemur the rational animal" or "turkey the rational animal"? Is reason limited to only humans?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 15, 2004 #2
    We only appear rational from a subjective perspective. If we look exclusively at our behaviour, we can appear as dumb as a fly hopelessly hitting a window pane in its attempt to leave the room. What are those wars out there if not the result of our own imbecility?
  4. Apr 15, 2004 #3


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    You could also look at it as a type of selectivity. We decide we are different from other animals, and label that difference rationality. Then, by definition, we are rational and all other animals are not.

  5. Apr 15, 2004 #4
    But is that really what rational means? I have always taken "rational" to mean "having the ability to use logic" or "not letting emotion overcome reason". When I started this thread, I was thinking more of the former.

    Going back to what you said, Njorl, how do we describe what that difference is, and does it stand up to scrutiny?
  6. Apr 15, 2004 #5
    I think the answer depends on whether or not one stipulates linguistic capacity as a requirement for rationality.
  7. Apr 15, 2004 #6
    Perhaps the dichotomy between rational and emotional modes of thought is another one of those obfuscating categorical blunders which are generally so appealing because of their simplicity and ease of formulation (much like the left vs. right brain, nature vs. nurture false dichotomies). We say that primitive, instinct driven behaviors are emotional, while logical and creative behaviors are rational. However, this is a dramatic oversimplification, as in reality the two "forms" of thought are mutually inclusive and totally inseparable.
  8. Apr 15, 2004 #7
    The phrase, "Man, the rational animal", is optimistic. Even trying to be rational, springs from a decision based in emotion. Most super-rational people are that because they feel unsure in the emotional arena; their thinking hats are really helmets. I am an observer of the reflexive relationship, between various poses. The more rational an individual has to be, is in reflex to a more uncertain set of circumstances that exists elsewhere in that psyche. Our history is much, much longer than the history of this society, we have a nice little veneer going here, but enter almost any chat room, on the net, and watch that disappear.
  9. Apr 15, 2004 #8
    Dayle Record,
    I agree when you say "Even trying to be rational, springs from a decision based on emotion". But I don't fully agree on where you go with this assertion. You say "Most super-rational people are that because they feel unsure in the emotional arena...". Correct me if I'm wrong, but you are implying that people act rationally as an attempt to cover up emotional uncertainty? I didn't realize that we had such fine control over which aspects of our consciousness are activated in response to a given stiumulus. I tend to think that we don't control how we feel, we just struggle to describe how we feel (for whatever reason, this can be a topic for another discussion, at another time). But you can't describe how you feel without descriptive faculties and feelings, right? There's no such thing as "just emotion" nor does there exist anywhere "just rational thought". Any thought or action can be described as being either or both. In my opinion, the correct approach to the notion of emotion vs. rational is to discard it entirely. There's no emotion or rational thought, there's only emotion and rational thought, and the two are not easily distinguishable from one another.
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