Instrumental Rationality and Communicative Action


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Instrumental Rationality and Communicative Action

Sociology makes an essential distinction between a rational action that is orientated towards the successful fulfillment of an end and a rational action that aims at reaching a level of understanding regarding an acceptable end between reflective agents. The non-social or objective world, which comprises objects, events, intentions etc., is that aspect of reality from which puzzles are generated. Communicative rationality is utilized for developing understanding as to proper ends when reflective agents interact to develop ends rather than means.

Instrumental rationality is a systematic process for reflecting upon the best action to take to reach an established end. The obvious question becomes ‘what mode of rationality do we turn to in determining ends?’ Instrumental rationality appears to be of no use in determining such matters as “good” and “right”.

Since reason seems to offer no help in determining ends psychology has accepted the position that ends are a matter determined by belief and desire. To accept belief and desire as avenues for establishing ends one must assume that the agent comes equipped with these beliefs and desires through some mystical means.

Because we have a well developed and effective instrumental rationality we often find that all problems, insofar as possible, are modified to appear as puzzles. If the only tool a man has is a hammer then the inclination is to accept all problems to be nails. We have used instrumental rationality to minimize the problems that might at first include a need to agree upon an end by establishing an end and then molding the facts to fit the means test.

Political economy is the study of social relations. It is the study of culture. Political economy focuses upon the problem of how to regulate industrialization within the context of a healthy society; it worries about the problems of labor within a context of the laborer as an end and not a means to a more distant end.

Economics, in its modern form, has replaced political economics. Economics has removed the pesky concern about labor as being humans and has replaced labor as being an object. Modern economics is now the study of scarcity, prices, and resource allocation. Economics has legislated that labor as an end is no longer a legitimate domain of knowledge. In doing so, over time, society has become ignorant of such concerns. Our culture has replaced concern about humans as ends with humans as means to some other end.

Economics might properly be labeled as commodity-capitalism, a social form of economy in which the relations among people are not regulated directly, but through things. Economic theory is a science that deals with production relations that take on strictly materialistic forms; such a theory has eliminated the pesky problems inherent in the consideration of human relations as that which deals with humans as an end, as a subject. In such a society production relations are reified.

We have not focused our attention upon developing the rationality required for us to live together while we constantly improve our ability to kill one another and to destroy our planet.