Should We Get Rid Of Irrationality? Perhaps, What Is Irrationality?

Dan Ariely is a very enjoyable writer and an excellent researcher. That said I find his central theme of “irrationality” a problem. It is hard to know what people mean when they talk about irrationality.

In his advice book, Irrationally Yours, readers ask Ariely about various problems they face. On page 29 we get the idea that irrationality arises from decisions driven by emotion. This is a standard popular view which is often used in psychology related work.

But do emotions equate with irrationality? A reader asks Ariely what to do because the reader’s wife-to-be wants a big diamond engagement ring. The reader describes this as “irrational behavior”. (Ariely, 2015, page 20), presumably because the reader’s wife-to-be has an emotional desire for a large rock. Ariely isn’t convinced that wanting a large rock is irrational however as such a gift shows sacrifice on the reader’s part. The wife-to-be emotions help her confirm that her prospective partner is willing to sacrifice for her. This argument is reminiscent of evolutionary psychology logic in which emotions have value but in this view emotions aren’t connected to irrationality.

On page 137 texting and driving is given as an example of an irrational behaviour because it can kill us and other people. How much exactly should a rational person care about others? According to the popular definition a rational person seems to more caring about others than a completely selfish person but less caring than someone who is totally self-sacrificing. What is the unspecified right level of caring about others that we need to show to be rational?

Strangely the one thing I was left very clear about after reading Ariely’s advice is that hating squirrels is irrational. But if you see squirrels as “immoral” (Ariely, 2015, page 72) why shouldn’t you “rationally” hate the furry little creatures?

Read: Dan Ariely, 2015, Irrationally Yours, Harper Perennial.