Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters

Posted by Kristin Arnold on April 25, 2022

I have a few dozen books on my bookshelf about critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making.  My latest read, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters by Steven Pinker is now sitting next to Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.

Why?  Because both of these are hugely informative yet dense books to read.  After I read one chapter, I would have to set it down to ponder and navel gaze as to my own rationality.  Would I come to the same conclusion as the author or not?  How does that apply to me and my own dose of rationality?

Despite its density, the book makes sense to me.  Pinker is a professor of Psychology at Harvard University who has a course entitled “Rationality.”  I think this is a textbook that covers much of his material, along with interesting exercises, insightful anecdotes, and fascinating footnotes about what is rational and what is prejudice or bias wrapped up as rationality.

A key theme of the book is that

“None of us, thinking alone, is rational enough to consistently come to sound conclusions: rationality emerges from a community of reasoners who spot each other’s fallacies.”

And that is also the power of teamwork when done well!

While much of the book reiterates the other dozens of books on my bookshelf, I found the LAST chapter to be the most interesting and hopeful: “Why Rationality Matters” where Pinker states, “exercising our godlike reason…can lead to a better life and better world.”  Amen to that, but good luck.


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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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