The question which logic and mindset is at work when we act, has been central to Western intellectual culture. We strangely defer to this as "rationality". But "rational" and "irrational" are meaningless with respect to our subjective goals, and even more with respect to human interaction in complex, adaptive socio-ecological systems.
It is not about how people produce things but how people think about the world. — Max Weber
# Types of Rationality
In economic literature there are different ideas of rationality connected to different ideas we have about how we are as human beings. In other words: a logic of action (rationality) comes along with a certain type of human being supposed to be actually existing. Let's have a look at a few of them:
￭ Neoclassic (i.e. mainstream) economists portray human beings as homo economicus. The homo economicus typically acts in a selfish way according to an utilitarian cost-benefit analysis. His (sic!) actions are focussed on more efficiency and maximizing individual benefits. A homo economicus is supposed to find itself constantly comparing, measuring and calculating - seemingly trapped in a calculative rationality, which is short-term and usually unconcerned with historical or long-term relationships.
Calculative rationality is certainly present, also in the commons. But is it dominant?
- Critical institutionalism focuses on process, context and reflection. The rationality of a typical human being, the homo culturalis – as assumed by critical institutionalists and pragmatists like Jon Dewey - takes a broader perspective on a given situation and institutional realities. It goes beyond a calculative rationality, is more processual and has been called practical reasonableness.
- Socio-ecological economists assume, that we have the capacity to take a long-term perspective for sustaining socio-ecological systems. We are part of co-evolutionary processes which are “above and beyond” any individual organism. In short: we are [[homo socio-ecologicus], endowed with a rationality that takes into account contingency, unpredictable disruptions and the interconnectedness of all living and non-living things in a [[pluriverse]. Shared reflexion through communication among all the individuals that contributed to the system determines the way we act (see also: kommunikative Vernunft by German philosopher Jürgen Habermas).
- Feminist approaches to economy and culture tend to focus on relationality, combining practical, communicative and emotional concerns. The nature of a human being translates into the idea of a caring-self in context. There is a premium put on sensing, feeling and nurturance as reasons for acting. There is emotional reasonableness.
- Commoners recognize the interdependency of human beings as nested-I’s and their embeddedness in a pluriversal set of relationships with the human and more-than-human world (Bresnihan). Within what we preliminarily call a “commons oikonomy” an Ubuntu rationality is supposed to unfold. We see it as a combination of practical and emotional reasonableness enacted through shared reflection, i.e. communication and keenly aware of life’s messy contingencies, interpersonal connections, and local contexts.
Book Cover. source
For a more complete assessment of economic approaches to the nature of the human being, its mindset and rationality see: Biesecker/Kestings (2003: 174)
# See also - irrational logic