Economic Rationality?

So-called economic rationality is a species of mere calculation, not any form of substantive Reason. Reason not only is concerned with meanings, but always potentially puts presumed meanings into question.

The basic principles of economic rationality are that all money is created equal, and that everything has its price. Money putatively becomes a universal calculator, potentially supplying algorithms for all practical questions. From the point of view of Reason, this may result in sheer insanity. Practically, it causes suffering, and potentially the destruction of life on our planet.

Economic determinism can certainly be pushed too far, but there is a big boulder of truth in it. The development of ethical culture in important instances leads — but more routinely follows — the development of material culture. Aside from its expression of ethical culture, the principal characteristic of material culture is its participation and subsumption in a larger economic sphere.

Social ills are in the main the result of the unfolding logic of situations, not the moral badness of people or any explicit conspiracy. The most globally decisive aspect of that logic of situations in our world today is an illegitimate and dangerous, but pervasive, substitution of economic “rationality” for substantive rationality. (See also Democracy and Social Justice.)

Aristotle clearly considers a preoccupation with money and profit over substantive values to be unseemly and incompatible with virtue. That of course does not mean we should be economically foolish.