Are People Rational?

Philosophy Now 120:16-20 (2017)

ABSTRACT. It is common for Bertrand Russell’s admirers to repeat his many quips about other people’s lack of good sense, for example, “most people would die sooner than think – in fact, they do so.”1 But it is less common for them to assert that this view is one of Russell’s fundamental assumptions about human nature and at the core of his serious moral, social, and political thought. This essay aims to show that this expressed scepticism about human reason is indeed a core assumption of Russell’s public philosophy throughout his life. Even if one accepts this, however, one can still ask: “But is it true?” It will be argued that there is much support for Russell’s view of human reason in recent psychological literature. Examples of how this assumption affects Russell’s social and political thought are indicated. 1. The complete and correct quote is “We all have a tendency to think that the world must conform to our prejudices. The opposite view involves some effort of thought, and most people would die sooner than think – in fact, they do so.” (The ABC of Relativity, 1925)
Keywords Bertrand Russell  Public Philosophy  Leon Festinger  Cognitive Dissonance Theory  Philosophy and Psychology
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ISBN(s) 0961-5970
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