Why live a rational life? What is a rational life? We are all faced with common philosophical challenges at one moment or another in our lifetimes. We will happen upon, while amidst introspection, such questions as whether we have free will or not, or whether we have an unchangeable nature or not.
These philosophical challenges shall shape our character, and so are indeed moments of challenge to our character when brought to our attention. The moment for us now is whether we should live a rational life or not.
But now that you are here, I hope I can provide the answers you have been in search for. I hope I can convince the reader do indeed live a rational life. Though before I do so, I think it necessary that we first define rationality and other basic terms; only so we can avoid confusion.
Let us first look at the below diagram which explains, I think, a rational life:
Beginning from the top left, we have what I dub hedonic pleasure. Hedonic pleasure has an immediate reward which is extremely intense. For example, the consumption of alcohol would be an activity which has both an intense and immediate reward. One need only purchase a bottle of their most beloved drink and relax comfortably on a couch while the influence of alcohol washes over their consciousness. It is an act most representative amid other hedonic acts.
In comparison to hedonic pleasure, at the top right of the diagram, we have immediate rewards which bear low levels of pleasure. I consider that to be, like watching a stone pass time, boredom. To explain further, consider that some video games grant immediate reward, yet can nevertheless be utterly non-stimulating; in specific, some players find the rewards granted for killing another player, despite being immediate, entirely unsatisfying. Said players would be experiencing boredom while playing video games, as the achievement bears no significance to them.
After boredom, on the bottom right of the diagram, we have a longterm reward which is unsatisfying. For good example, someone who receives a promotion in a company they have neither passion nor desire for shall experience, unfortunately, not joy or excitement. The promotion, having taken months or even years to achieve, can lack any feelings of pleasure; only because the goal is devoid of rationality.
In an unsatisfying pursuit, then, a person has the longterm goal, but the goal gives them no pleasure once achieved. Which, in contrast to a rational pursuit, is the exact opposite case.
On the bottom left of the diagram, we have a high intensity, long-term reward; put otherwise, we have what I have dubbed a rational pursuit. A student pursuing a university degree they are passionate about, or an investor financing a company they consider not just profitable but also beneficial for society, would be two instances of rational pursuits.
Thus, what we are now left with are four options in life: boredom, hedonism, rational pursuits, and unsatisfying pursuits. Simple enough. But that is not enough to be informed about why we should live a rational life, nor to understand what exactly a rational life is.
In order todo just that, we shall explain both the descriptive and introspective patterns associated with our four options, so we can get closer to the answers we want.
But before we clarify those categories any further, I must clarify a misconception about rationality.
A Misconception About Rationality
Rationality is not about being devoid of emotion. Many times I have heard some suppose that rationality and emotion are incompatible, and that emotions are devoid of logic. Put otherwise, a rational person is guided by their logic rather than their emotions. Though that is ultimately a misconception of rationality.
If we accept that rationality refers to something being in accordance to reason or logic, and we accept that logic refers to reasoning or decision-making that abides by standards of validity, then both rationality and logic are entirely compatible with emotions.
As we will see later on, what sets the standards of validity is something emotional, and emotions are likewise involved in our reasoning processes as well. Thus, emotion is deeply intertwined with logic and rationality, so much so that I would consider them constituent pieces of something more whole: members of the same set.
So, people believe rationality is devoid of emotion, and thus that a rational life is somehow an emotionless life. And that is the major misconception about rationality. To make logical choices, and to live a rational life, as far as I can tell, requires emotions.
What is a Rational Life?
A life spent in pursuit of a longterm goal, a goal created by axioms and emotions, constitutes the essence of a rational life. What is most essential to a rational life is precisely that. But let us first explain, from the beginning.
In order for us to have a rational pursuit, we must first create a set of beliefs about the world. Without these beliefs, we are just bodies without heads; we could wander with some assistance, though we would never know where to.
In addition, these beliefs ought be systematic and interactive. For example, the belief that one should not eat junk food often interacts with the belief that one should exercise. And said beliefs should bear their mark on all aspects of our existence: they are systematic.
Another example of interactive beliefs is as follows: those who believe one should learn about the world tend to likewise have a belief that one should read books or articles. As with the other example, the beliefs interact and are systematic.
Once we have our interactive beliefs, it then becomes apparent how they can bear longterm goals that are rational.
Consider, for the person who holds the beliefs about junk food and fitness, their longterm goal would be a healthy lifestyle. One cannot live a healthy lifestyle without eating well, and fitness likewise aids in the obtainment of being healthy.
When the two beliefs interact, they can be relied upon to lead us to a longterm goal via their synergy.
What then determines a valid decision (in the sense of logic) is whatever the two beliefs support. Put otherwise, what is rational, that is, what is in accordance to the rules that determine validity, is whatever coheres with eating healthy and exercising.
Since rational means in accordance to logic, and the axioms of our logic are “healthy eating is correct,” and, “exercise is correct,” then the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle is rational.
For the person who believes one ought to know about the world and ought to read books, their longterm, rational pursuit could be to read 1000 books, or to learn X amount of insights about some aspect of the world. Thus, it would be rational for them to purchase books, read books, and even listen to the book recommendations of others.
Now, it should be apparent that what constitutes rationality can be relative to each person; only because each person determines the axioms to their own logic. But that relativity I suspect is more akin to a population with a large variance rather than absolute relativity.
Meaning, for the entire population, it is not relative, though for each person it could indeed seem relative.
Here, the small circles represent specific pursuits by individual people. Each person, because of their emotional preference to do so, has adopted different sets of axioms (beliefs) that lead to different outcomes. Some people prefer socializing, and some people prefer social desirability; thus, they seek to become popular. Yet, others might seek to have many material items and to have a life of luxury; thus, they seek to earn a high-income.
But the biggest circle, which represents the entire human population, I believe has the same level of average variance; meaning, if we were to measure 100 human populations, we would find a similar degree of difference in what constitutes rationality amongst the smaller segments that compose the populations; only because rationality is bounded.
Humans have limited cognitive abilities, and much of our cognitive abilities rest on a universal nature: i.e., the physiological arrangement of our brains are similar, and that physiological arrangement impacts the style of our cognitions.
So, although things are axiomatically declared to be rational, I suspect the general archetypes which emerge are not themselves arbitrary or in need of justification. For example, it is not random that those who prefer to socialize and prefer to be socially desirable seek to be popular.
What that means, then, is that we can rely on these archetypes as points of comparison for our own rational pursuits. If we find ourselves with the preference to socialize and to be socially desirable, then we could see what longterm goals have already been achieved by those preferences, so that we can adopt a similar rational pursuit.
Moreover, the last element necessary for a rational pursuit is, as some might have already grasped, impulse control.
Impulse control is necessary for a rational pursuit because immediate rewards, that is, hedonic pleasure, is based on instinctual pleasure; instinctual pleasure has no requirement of reason or belief. In example, there is no requirement by our reason to experience the dopamine releases of cocaine or alcohol. Those are rewards which are built into our nature.
Comparatively, none are born with the desire to be renown painters or investors. Those are pursuits which can only be reached through reason; we must reason ourselves into the conclusions that being a renown investor or painter is preferable and rewarding. And those are things which can only be achieved with effort and strain.
No one is born a great investor, one must put hours of work into reaching that state. No one is born a great painter, one must put forth hours of work to reach said state. To become something we are not, and to become something which is likewise a product of reason, such as a painter or investor, requires of us a great degree of impulse control. We must forgo immediate instinctual reward and pursue distant rational reward.
So, in summary, a rational pursuit is something which requires reason and impulse control; we must develop interactive beliefs which then guide us into rational pursuits. Upon identifying our rational pursuits, we must forgo immediate gratification and work diligently to manifest our reasoned world.
How to Identify Your Life Course
We can go about identifying our life courses, that is, whether we are pursuing an unsatisfying goal or a rational goal, by two general methods. We can on the one hand identify the behaviours associated with low intensity and high intensity rewards, and we can on the other hand identify the thought patterns associated with rationality, hedonism, boredom and non-satisfaction. One of the two methods, I am sure, will be of use to understanding your own life course.
Immediate Low Intensity Rewards: What it Looks Like
Let us first consider immediate, low intensity rewards. When I consider someone who is engaged in immediate, low intensity rewards I invariably arrive at an image of someone who is bored.
A bored person will watch television and have no interest in what happens to the characters or where the story is going. A bored person can receive an achievement and have little or no enthusiasm. In example, when someone finds a particular subject too easy, they might find no reward in prizes which are granted for correct answers. Lastly, a bored person will simply show a lack of concern for whatever is going on with the task they are performing, like a football player having little concern for whether they are winning or losing.
Thus, if you are someone who finds dull some activity, of which grants immediate reward, then you are someone who is bored. The general lack of enthusiasm for changes within and features of the activity and the associated rewards stems from the boredom you are experiencing.
Distant Low Intensity Rewards: What it Looks Like
We have another low intensity reward, but it is this time a longterm rather than immediate reward. We have called such combination an unsatisfying pursuit; however, apathy and reluctance are likewise applicable notions.
When someone is engaged with an unsatisfying pursuit, they are similar to someone who is bored insofar as a lack of interest, concern, and enthusiasm are present. But the primary difference, and what makes the term reluctance applicable is the pursuit of a longterm goal.
Those who pursue longterm goals which grant very little pleasure when achieved are reluctantly doing so. Suppose we have man who works a typical 9 to 5 job, and that he is in pursuit of a senior position, yet dislikes both the job and company.
With such a man, we would expect him to be slow to rise from bed, show no excitement in response to progress toward the final goal, nor have an excited tone when speaking of the goal. The man might even begin to neglect entirely all the duties and responsibilities required of him at work, he will underperform compared to those who are in fact passionate about the work.
If that description characterizes how it is you engage with longterm goals, then there is a good chance you have picked an unsatisfying longterm goal.
Distant and Immediate High Intensity Rewards: What They Look Like
Underneath high intensity rewards, we have hedonic pleasure and a rational pursuit. I have already established that rational pursuits require reason, whereas hedonic pleasure involves instinctual pleasure. But there are likewise differences in behaviour as well.
Someone who pursues hedonic pleasure will become irritated or angry when taken away from their source of pleasure. In example, when someone who suffers an addiction to weed is removed from the presence of weed, such that they can no longer consume the substance, they are far more angry and irritable.
Furthermore, someone who pursues hedonic pleasure will neglect longterm thinking. For them, they are able to get what they want in the very moment that they want it; thus, they seldom require longterm planning and thinking, which leads to a deterioration of said ability.
The same holds true for their impulse control. People who have no need for impulse control will be worse at engaging impulse control then those who rely on impulse control daily.
So, someone who pursues hedonic pleasure will show signs of weak longterm planning, weak impulse control, and irritability when removed from their source of pleasure.
Conversely, those who show signs of high impulse control and good longterm planning are either more likely to have a rational pursuit or are at least capable of developing a rational pursuit.
Likewise, those who indeed have a rational pursuit are less likely to become irritable when taken away from their source of pleasure; only because longterm plans never truly go according to plan. Which means, those who pursue rational goals are adjusted to things going wrong, and thus have a better response to interruption.
Thoughts of A Hedonist and Rationalist
There are beliefs which hedonists and rationalists usually subscribe to, as are there beliefs which a bored or unsatisfied person would subscribe to. Lets consider a few beliefs for each group.
A hedonist is more likely to subscribe to the view that the meaning of life is purely the pursuit of pleasure; because they have no rationalist view of meaning, they can only see as their purpose to continue with life the pursuit of immediate pleasure. If something does not bring them immediate pleasure, then they would avoid doing it.
Likewise, a hedonist is likely to call bad that which makes them feel discomfort, pain, or non-pleasure. For example, a hedonist is more likely to suppose that work and education are a “waste of life,” than someone who pursues longterm goals.
In comparison, a rationalist will most likely have some hyper-specific view about the meaning of life. When asked, they will be able to provide a personal yet detailed account of their own meaning within life, and that meaning will be well thought out. For example, when we ask an anti-aging researcher about the meaning of life, they will say, “to cure aging and rid the world of age-related disease and suffering”. That is something someone must have reasoned to, one cannot be born with such a specific purpose.
In addition to that, a rationalist will deem immediate pleasure a waste of time, because immediate pleasure seldom leads to longterm achievement. They are more likely to deem bad whatever involves lounging around and not pursuing goals.
Moreover, someone who has an unsatisfying longterm goal shares with the rationalists the same views about immediate pleasure being bad and longterm goals being good. However, they will not have the same views about the meaning of life.
Someone who has an unsatisfying goal will, mistakenly so, overgeneralize their subjective experience and take their experience as a general truth. Which is to say, the meaninglessness they experience will be confused as life being meaningless in general. They do not share the sense of meaning which the rationalists have.
Now, a bored person can fall into many of these categories; only because a bored person is someone who is not addicted to anything, and at the same time not committed to something longterm. A bored person can only be understood more thoroughly once they have passed their boredom.
Why Live A Rational Life?
One should live a rational life because there is a greater variety of experiences amongst those who live rational lives. Those who live a hedonic life become addicted to their sources of pleasure, and the conscious effort required to make meaningful changes becomes too great; only because their will has been weakened by having what they want so readily available to them. Not having to deploy their will has, essentially, made their will too weak to change.
As a result, a hedonic person tends to experience the same thing daily, like when a video game addict plays the same game everyday. Change requires effort, and to deny immediate reward requires effort. These are two things missing for the hedonist.
In comparison, those who pursue longterm goals tend to have many different longterm goals, and the process of reaching them introduces a great variety of experiences into one’s life. With the attainment of one longterm goal, another begins.
I have never met someone who, upon reaching one goal, suddenly stopped all other goals. Much rather, I tend to meet people who have many sub-goals rooted into one major goal.
It is for those reasons that I think one should live a rational life. I find variety far more pleasing than monotony, and I suspect many others are of the same opinion. A rational life is of much greater personal value than any other.