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La razionalità del soggetto sociale

The Rationality of the Social Subject

Anno XXIII, n. 102, luglio-settembre 1988
Centro Einaudi


Abstract disponibile solo in lingua inglese

The representation of the social subject in human sciences currently tends to be irrationalist. The first aim of this paper is to pause to reflect upon the reasons behind this tendency. The second is to stress the way in which the irrationality of the social agent is often exaggerated. Finally, the paper analyses the so-called theory of "subjective rationality" which offers a more proper and, at the same time, more constructive picture of the social subject.
The first reason behind the diffusion of the irrationalist interpretation is cognitive. The idea that a single reality—namely, the social agent’s motivations—can be "truly" explained both rationally and irrationally is unacceptable for most people: it clashes with common sense, the epistemology of our day-to-day existence. Dogmatic explanations—i.e. utilitarianism for economists, "social causes" for sociologists—are more successful because common sense is more prepared to accept univocal interpretations. The widespread popularity of the irrational model may also be explained by the influence of two authors—Marx and Freud—plus a third, Durkheim. Commonly accepted, and often hypersimplified, readings of their doctrines have bestowed the representation of the social subject as irrational and passive with the status of a scientific discovery: almost as if these respected and mutually independent authorities were affixing the seal of their confirmation to the representation itself.
In the wake of Weber, Pareto and Popper, the author suggests we adopt "an open conception of rationality" to break the deadlock into which the irrationalist tradition has forced the social sciences. This conception is based on the inquiry about the social agent’s "good reasons". It sets off from the simplest and gradually climbs up the scale of complexity to define behaviour as "irrational" only and exclusively when it cannot be acceptably explained according to the formula: "X has good reasons for doing Y because...". All this, of course, postulates the rigorous distinction between the subject’s good reasons and the truths behind the propositions in which he believes.