Beyond Rationality Part 1

brunswikKenneth R Hammond’s book Beyond Rationality-the Search for Wisdom in a Troubled Time was published in 2007.  Ken Hammond is a man in his 90s and this book and really all his writings have a frankness that is easy to like. He is quite willing to look at the people and themes in the world of judgment and decision making and tell you what he thinks.  He is clearly a learned man, and I enjoy his discussions about Oliver Wendell Holmes, Abraham Lincoln, and recent politicians. Hammond says a lot in this book, but I am going to try to limit my discussion of it to three posts.

The above image is Egon Brunswik, who was Ken Hammond’s mentor.  The picture is at the beginning of Beyond Rationality.  

Rationality has been the tool that we use to combat uncertainty. After 5000 years, everyone still seems to have his own definition. Part of the confusion is the continuing struggle between intuition and analysis. As Hammond says, he will go beyond rationality in this book because we need to, and search for wisdom.

The book is about judgment, the core cognitive process by which we are judged by others. Hammond quotes a man of the seventeenth century, Francois Duc La Rochefoucauld:  “Everyone complains of his memory, and no one complains of his judgment”.   To have a poor memory is easily forgiven, but judgment equates to wisdom. Wise people are respected and fools are respected by no one.  Hammond then looks at what mistaken judgment is.

There are two ways to evaluate judgment.  First, is it empirically correct?  This is correspondence competence.  Second, is it logically correct?  This is coherence competence. You do not use logic to determine whether or not the light bulb is on. This requires correspondence competence.  You may use logic to try to figure out why it is not on.  If someone tells you a story, you would tend to evaluate it on coherency–is it logical and consistent-rational.

Hammond says that trial lawyers have an old saying that illustrates the difference between coherence and correspondence:  “If the facts are against you, pound the law.  If the law is against you, pound the facts. If both the law and the facts are against you, pound the table.”  The twentieth century brought something new in looking at judgment-experimentation. Much has been learned and will be learned. Scientists faith in our ability to reason has been diminished in recent years. We are less certain we can be rational and we are less certain that we want to be rational. This is not the first time that reason has been opposed.  Jean Jacques Rousseau, pursued such a path in the eighteenth century.  But this time, the status of rationality is being tested on an empirical basis and in many respects found wanting.

Hammond, K.R. (2007) Beyond Rationality: The Search for Wisdom in a Troubled Time.  U.S.A:  Oxford University Press.


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