The following essay contains modified excerpts from my work “Proposiciones” (currently only in Spanish language – see in link).
Many times the idea has been popularized that there is a deductible behavior based on logic, that there are patterns that are naturally explained based on it, and therefore that there may be a logical sense of something in particular, that there is something that logically is what we must do, for example an ethics deductible from logic. In turn, the logical and the illogical are interchanged with rationality and irrationality, although both things are not necessarily the same. However, one thing is the structure of something, and another thing its content, so we can think something logically, but that does not mean that the content is something deducible from logic. In addition, the terms derived from “logic” have multiple associations, which generates more confusion. Here we will demarcate and give meaning to logic in its different meanings.
The human being tends to separate the decisions he makes in logical or rational and illogical or irrational, but it is often argued that there is no such separation in the end, that the arbitrariness of emotions pervades every decision, apparently, no matter the nature to be. First of all, we must stress that to say “logical or rational” depends of course on what we call rational, to determine if this proposition is such, and we must also demarcate what we call decision. Here the sense of decision refers rather to action, and here by rationally we take it as logical (we will clarify this last term later)
This previous affirmation seems to be said in certain cases because it is thought that no motivation is logical or could arise from logic. Such a thing would imply that it should be expressed as given and be evident, that is, logic is not a cause of how things work, but the simple expression of how things work.
It would be thought that if we were in a state where all emotion, feeling or instinctual drive was eliminated, there would be no motivation to act or behave in a certain way, so that any action would be arbitrary, not directed towards any objective, based on the immediate external context, for example.
If logic is not a motive for behavior, it could nevertheless be stated that we can use reason, as the expression of logic in things to guide emotionally or instinctively motivated behaviors (the latter can be a criterion of the term “reason”).
But we must understand that the expression of reality is logical, on the one hand, the so-called irrational behaviors are logical expressions but they are not inferred from the logic of the structure of reality. When it is said that reason fails and an irrational behavior occurs it is not illogical, nothing can be illogical in reality, otherwise it would not be. The behaviors can be based on premises that one manifests with meaning, when one has a purpose, for example, but if the result is not expected it is said to be irrational (in the sense of illogical), but it is not like that, simply the cause of behavior is different, the cause of behavior called rational is different, obeys other associations of things. Then people actually call irrational or rational the nature of the causes of one thing or another.
Therefore, to say that a behavior is rational or irrational it must be given a notion of rational and irrational as different from logical or illogical. But are behaviors really motivated by emotions, regardless of what the behavior is called (rational-irrational)? The behaviors have a cause as an end, a goal that establishes the action, or the action may have a cause but not based on ends, an arbitrary cause that establishes a non-purpose-oriented behavior, such as the behavior derived from a depressive state (of the state itself, not with to that state so to speak), for example. But within the causes as ends, we can include the notion of rationality, but we cannot leave aside the notion of caused, determined behavior,. Many have argued that actions or behaviors are not exclusively (that is, in all possible actions) determined by emotions and instincts, but that the so-called reason (understood in different senses) also acts. There are others that claim that they do (exclusively), while others affirm that reason alone could guide our behavior (but again, it depends on what is called reason).
Suppose that actions depend on emotions and instincts. If all behavior is motivated in this way, all ethical behavior is based on emotions or instinctual drives. Any behavior that is not motivated in this way would be arbitrary, without a specific purpose.
And here we return to the initial discussion. The logic in its structure does not carry any intentionality about anything, it only expresses and refers to the structure of reality, or instinctual emotions or drives (which are part of reality). If reality had an intrinsic intention to it, it would be different. Intention here as the cause of something for example. That the reality or the logic has intention means that they express the cause for a certain phenomenon on the part of an organism like a human being.
Our thinking refers to a logical structure shared by reality. In reality there are interactions and relations of objects. We can refer to these through thought. However, it is postulated that the expression of a certain phenomenon is through the constitution of instinctual drives and emotions, or the very interaction of matter, which allows the subject to be. Without such structures we would not exist. We are the structure that is maintained, the expression of a certain phenomenon is through the previous constitutive elements. Given A then B, where B is a survival-oriented behavior, A could be considered as the goal of survival, which establishes it. The expression is logical, but it is that, only expression, A can not necessarily be inferred in the sense of an end or purpose in reality ultimately, separated from the subject, which may or may not be obeyed. This is what it means that we cannot act on the basis of logic, that is, based on the structure of how things are in reality, since reality would ultimately have no purpose. This is the fact that logic refers rather to a particular structure, rather than to the specific content of it, so to speak.
Reality is logical, according to my criteria, and therefore the above is logical, but A does not necessarily infer from logic, in the absence of A, A does not arise from the logical, because the things that make up what we call reality do not have a cause in the end, in the sense that they present a limit (this I discuss at the beginning of my work “Proposiciones“).
What I state here is that the motivation of a subject to act, its purpose, can not be inferred from what is logical, and as it is logical what refers to reality, in my opinion, the structure of reality does not contain a “why” one must ultimately act in a certain way, and not a “why” in the end that is directly perceived from reality, and therefore an existing entity independent of the individual (things in reality or things that are part of what we call reality are ultimately devoid of meaning or purpose-see statements of the first part of “Proposiciones”), and there can not be rational behavior, if this is equivalent to the logical. That is, we lack the premises in reality to determine the behavior that would necessarily be inferred from these, which we would call logical.
Behavior can be rational
The behavior can be rational, insofar as it is based on the subject that determines the end and acts, and based on his knowledge, to achieve this end. The reasoning could be the following: “If I want to survive, I must get food, I want to survive, so I must get food.” The conclusion is logical, but the end of survival can not be inferred from reality ultimately (as indicated above), it must be determined precisely by what the subject establishes as an end, what is his desire, on the basis, for example, of his values, and all this is determined by the associative capacity of the subject, by his mind, but the end does not imply an opinion of reality in the end, the individual does not have to do anything in the world, the end that guides its actions are determined by him, it does not exist as such in reality ultimately. A rational individual (according to a criterion of the term), would consider the former in his act, although he may simply feel a deep need to feed and act accordingly, without taking into account in his mind values or purposes clearly and concisely. So the behavior can be rational to the extent that it follows the previous structure (it is logical in that sense), but it is not logical in last instance in the sense of being based on reality with respect to an ultimate goal in such reality that one can deduct.
Can we think illogically?
On the other hand, I do not consider that one can think illogically, in the sense, for example, that one arrives at conclusions without premises. I think Wittgenstein had an equal or similar position with regard to this aspect. Wittgenstein said that a proposition may not make sense, but that thought is not illogical (Wittgenstein, 2003). For my part, instead of a nonsense I would say that a proposition that is taken as a conclusion is not an expression of the sequence of the premises. And this is different in turn from expressing something that is illogical as saying that the effects precede the causes, which one can do. We cannot think illogically, if I have a conclusion the premises are there, consciously or unconsciously, or what I have is not a conclusion of a certain reasoning or sequence of premises. When speaking of the rules of logic or valid reasoning, I would rather speak of respecting an established sequence, to distinguish it from the logical or illogical.
The reasonings, either those where the conclusion fits the premises or those where it does not, are possible, people carry them out. Besides this, we can refer to logical or illogical conclusions regarding these reasonings, which is different from something logical or illogical as to the very structure of reality. In a reasoning with a conclusion that does not refer to the sequence of the premises, the conclusion is illogical, the conclusion, that is, the statement that expresses the sequence of certain premises with which we are working, not the statement alone, outside the context of the reasoning, because the affirmation itself can refer to something that is possible and happens.
What happens when we speak of an illogical conclusion is that a statement that is said to express the sequence of premises with which we are working is not possible to be extracted from such premises, according to what the premises and the sequence they relate are saying, and that there is such a statement that is taken as a conclusion, there must be other reasons for it.
The conclusions can also be logical, insofar as they refer to the sequence of the premises with which we are working. What the statements referred to illogical conclusions indicate, do not happen in reference to the premises, so something that is concluded (as for an illogical conclusion) does not happen for what the premises in particular express, but it may be possible and it may or may not happen, taking into account the premise alone, in reference to reality (the proposition may refer to something logical, which is possible). What statements that refer to logical conclusions indicate may be possible taking into account reality, and may or may not happen. What statements that refer to illogical conclusions indicate may also not be possible, not be logical, taking into account reality. In this way, we begin to demarcate the terms appropriately and understand that while we may have a logical conclusion, this does not necessarily refer to something possible or logical, as to something real.
On the other hand, what the premises indicate, can be logical or illogical, possible or not, taking into account reality. There may be logical or illogical conclusions with premises that refer to something logical or illogical.
And then we have the Logic, to distinguish it from when we talk about the logical or illogical, which would be the discipline dedicated to the study of these sequences of propositions, which presents various postulates about them, as which conclusions are illogical and which are logical for example.
What, then, is the rational and irrational?
When I speak of the rational and the irrational in these propositions, I indicate that I am referring to what goes according to reality or not. Rationality refers to the ability to associate. We can have a low or high rationality. I consider that low rationality gives rise more frequently to the irrational (that which is not real). Now, when we speak of irrationality, in the sense of an irrational way of thinking, the most appropriate according to the common use of the term, would be to refer to the generation of illogical consequences, to give rise to incorrect sequences of affirmations, as I have just indicated.
If we say something like “it is logical to behave to survive”, we have to analyze it considering the aforementioned propositions. We may refer to a conclusion that follows the sequence of its premises, being that the sense of saying it is logical, the notion of “behaving to survive” is logical, in terms of the conclusion of certain premises. If we say that behaving to survive is possible, as what can happen, in terms of the notion of the logical as the possible, the real, then “behaving to survive” is logical, now, if we said something like “behaving to survive is logical”, “the logical “in the sense of the only possible thing, it happens that one can behave with consequences contrary to survival, so it would not be logical.
Therefore we must understand when we speak of rationality and logic that one thing is not exactly the other.
Although thought has been used for malicious purposes, beliefs based on nothing, the fictions of the subjects, have always been the cause behind the greatest crimes against individuals for example, although this is not the only cause. That is, matters of irrationality. But I do not consider that it can be said that something logical, outside of our emotions and instincts, and more importantly, certain ideas, has led to those acts.
We must not confuse our expressions that make up manifestations of our emotions and judgments about things, with things as they occur in reality. Is it to say: “my behavior is irrational” or “this behavior does not make sense” a reference to the illogical nature of the behavior? Nothing in reality can be illogical, what we say actually, if it is not a judgment, is that this behavior has other causes, it represents another association of things that gestates it, where our emotions participate, for example.
If one plans to achieve a specific goal, welfare, for example, and different ways of achieving it are established: 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, with 1 being the least effective and 5 the most effective, and there being no arguments against any option, we may choose 5 to reach that goal of well-being. I consider that this is the use of associative capacity, the criterion of reason that could be established. Reason then is our ability to establish associations of things based on external reality and our internal states that are experienced. Now, the goal, the well-being, can not arise from logic (different than reason).
However, another problem arises, why we would prefer to opt for 5 and not for 1. 5 is more effective, but does one’s choice follow from the use of logic? There is no way that an intention or action, as I suggest, is derived from logic or reason (taken as a synonym of logic), because these things do not imply intentions. An intention that arises from logic should be evident, necessary, a priori knowledge, but in this case the impulse for one option or another is not evident in that sense, in addition, logic or reality, does not contain goals, criteria, the choice of one of the options is not given by this, it would be given by the emotion according to what many consider (or what they call passions for example). In fact, everything refers to the ultimate criterion in man, which is the reward (this is my criterion), the subject follows that which rewards it to some extent, and all the other criteria that follow have their base and limit in this.
The notion of reason as the ability to establish associations based on reality and internal states is the one that I adopt, and this allows me to take the choice to follow 5. The cause of this choice is in the end, in the goal (welfare), in what we want to achieve and in the way we want to do it. The question is what determines the goal and how to achieve it. The goal and the way to reach it are given by our associative capacity, that is, reason, according to my criteria. The values that an individual possesses arise from their associative capacity, these would imply the end, the values arise from the interaction of our thought and our emotions and feelings, from the association to the reward states, according to my consideration.
What about emotions, ethics and reason?
It could be argued that behaviors based on the emotions themselves could be the case, but one may carry out some action at the same time that there is an emotional correlate, the cause could be something else, something in the background of both, of the action and the emotion. The emotions that would drive the behavior, according to certain subjects, can be manifested in response to the environment (fight-flight reaction, for example) or we can talk about a specific neuro-chemical configuration that does not necessarily refer to the environment (as in states of mood), for example.
The reasons (causes) of our goals can not be inferred from an end in reality in last instance (there is no such end in reality ultimately) or refer to some abstract principle independent of the subject’s mind ultimately, something that we must discover out of our mind, but our mind, our thoughts, establish the goals, the purposes are generated by the individual, not discovered in the previous sense, and so it had to be at some point, given if we discovered the goals from others, as they do not exist in reality independently, someone had to generate them in the first place.
The values are such only for the subjects, reality lacks value (according to certain criteria of value). Our moral cannot go beyond our actions based on goals or purposes, since at one point we will arrive at what is not caused. The reality is amoral, the purposes do not exist in it ultimately, these are what determine our actions, even if it were the emotions that are guiding the behavior of a particular individual, the limit should be considered as what it simply is, we can not account for a cause beyond this, given that it would not exist.
Now, for the behavior guided by emotions I consider that there would be certain bases of the actions based on them that are random (awakened by factors that represent a particular orientation of the subject’s life), the objective moral, or rather, consistent, could not thus be based punctually on this, or on the purposes taken as absolute, but on other factors. There is no logical need, dictated by logic, that the subject chooses option 5, things are expressed in a logical way, but why choose option 5 is given in the nature of the person, following that which ultimately rewards, according to my criteria, which would be the ultimate criterion of the action of the choice and action of the subject.
In this way, there is no intrinsic need in logic that because there is pity in human beings it should be institutionalized politically, there is no need for science to say that because a substance can be harmful to the individual, it must be forbidden in any case. Knowledge, reality, are expressed in a logical way, otherwise they would not be, but the reality, the logic, do not contain in themselves any end, this belongs to the field of the nature of man, what it does is based on that which rewards, not in existing purposes independent of the subjects, these are not such in the end, reality does not contain ends ultimately, there is a limit, and yet it is usual among people to justify their ends by appealing to these nonexistent entities.
What, then, is reason? In my opinion, it refers to thought itself, to the associations of things specifically. My criteria, as I have stated, may differ from others. I would speak of rationality different from the rational or irrational, I would make a distinction. Rationality as associations for example. What does a more or less developed rationality mean? Greater or lower level of associations. The irrational I consider would be that which is not based on reality, thinking or acting on the basis of false beliefs, superstitions, etc., which I consider would imply a lower level of associations, a less developed rationality. The rational is based on reality, in the sense of facts, of acting on the basis of them. I treat the rational as well as that based on reality, that is, takeing into account relationships that are considered, by the evidence, that occur in external reality to one. The irrational thing in this sense would be to take as given or real, non-existent relations, falsehoods. This implies that one can use their associative capacity, their reason, and reach associations that are taken as objective in the sense that they refer to relationships in reality when in fact they do not, one can thus be wrong in the use of reason and guide their actions based on notions that do not exist in reality, this can happen.
Therefore, the human being acts (according to my consideration) based on reward as the ultimate criterion. This is the basis of ethical behavior. Emotions, rather than reasons of behavior, would in general be mechanisms of preparation and guidance of our behavior based on the criterion of reward. We can have a high rationality or low rationality (high irrationality), which implies more or less associative complexity (although sometimes the simplest can be the most accurate, which is another matter). In general, greater rationality implies acting according to the rational (things that are based on reality), irrationality generally involves arriving at behavior based on the irrational (which is not based on reality). Within this scheme we have the logical and illogical as what is possible or not, and in a different way as that which follows the sequence of our premises or not when the process of reason is carried out. So logic is intertwined with rationality, although it is not necessarily the same thing according to the criteria stated.
Castelluccio, L. (2017). Proposiciones. Independently published.
Wittgenstein, L. (2003). Tractatus logico-philosophicus. Editorial Alianza.