Wednesday, March 24, 2010


One distinction I don't see people making enough is the difference between reason and rationale. Reason is the process of using one's mental faculties to assess a situation and come to a conclusion about what must be done. Rationale is using one's mental faculties to come up with justification for what one has already decided to do. This is an important distinction to keep in mind.

To pick a vaguely topical example, if you're arguing with someone who's very strongly in favor of socialized medicine for reasons such as peer pressure, arguing with their stated reasons for instituting socialized medicine is futile in many ways. Arguing with someone's rationale is pointless, because they spring up like weeds. This is, of course, only assuming that your goal is to convince that person that they're wrong. Arguing with that person in a public forum with the goal of convincing the audience is often worthwhile.


  1. Excellent - a very important distinction. The one I more commonly make is between justification and rationalization. The former being the process of arriving at a mutually agreed upon proposition through logical argumentation. The latter being the production of a rhetorical flourish to satisfy one's pre-conceived prejudices.

  2. Yeah, I couldn't decide on a good word to use for the actual process of arriving at a decision through logic. Yours might be better, but I think "justify" sometimes also has the same kind of context as "rationalize".

  3. All we ever do these days is rationalize...