Reason in Society: Five Types of Decisions and Their Social Conditions

Reason in Society: Five Types of Decisions and Their Social Conditions

Reason in Society: Five Types of Decisions and Their Social Conditions

Reason in Society: Five Types of Decisions and Their Social Conditions

Excerpt

In many social theories rationality is defined as identical with efficiency. The efficient achievement of a single goal is technical rationality, the maximum achievement of a plurality of goals is economic rationality, and no other types of rationality are admitted. A typical example is provided by von Mises (1960: 148) who writes, "The economic principle is the fundamental principle of all rational action, and not just a particular feature of a certain kind of rational action. . . . All rational action is therefore an act of economizing." Similarly, in organization theory the "rationalizing" of an organization is taken to mean the increase of its productive efficiency. A rational organization is an efficient one, and other principles or modes of organization are thought to be nonrational or irrational.

Such a conception of rationality limits its scope rather severely. The criterion of efficiency is applicable only to means and not to ends, unless these are in turn means to further ends. Thus ultimate ends, the basic aims of life, cannot be selected or evaluated by rational procedures; they must be dealt with by arbitrary preference, or intuition, or by cultural and biological determinism. And yet it seems unfortunate to have rational procedures available for the relatively less important decisions of life and to have none for dealing with the most important decisions. Nor is this all. Several rather common types of activity can only with great difficulty be assimilated to the category of efficient action and evaluated by standards of efficiency.

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