A Critique of Instrumental Reason in Economics

Economics and Philosophy 11 (1):57 (1995)
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There are, broadly speaking, two ways to think about rationality, as defined in the following passage: ‘Reason’ for a long time meant the activity of understanding and assimilating the eternal ideas which were to function as goals for men. Today, on the contrary, it is not only the business but the essential work of reason to find means for the goals one adopts at any given time. To use what Horkheimer called objective reason, and what others have called expressive or non–instrumental reason, is to reflect on one's goals, to attempt to determine what preferences one ought to hold. On the other hand, to use what Horkheimer called subjective reason is to ‘be concerned with means and ends, with the adequacy of procedures for purposes more or less taken for granted’, that is, to be instrumentally rational. This contrast between non-instrumental and instrumental reason is at the heart of many contemporary social and philosophical disputes. 1



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