Josh Friedlander's Reviews > Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
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Irrationality, Truth and Emotion

Experimental psychology has shown that our minds have biases which lead us to decisions we can understand, upon further reflection, to be irrational. That's the crux of this book, in which a Nobel laureate explains the discoveries which led to the founding of behavioural economics - which states that people are not utility-maximising homo economicus, but instead behave in (predictably) irrational ways. Kahneman admits that, even after his research, he isn't much better at avoiding these errors, but thinks that understanding them can help us understand ourselves better, and perhaps create better public policy.

In a way, our humanity can be defined as a hybrid of rationality and emotion. I'm not sure that rejecting all irrational ideas will lead us to greater net happiness. This finds expression in the ongoing contemporary debate about the value of the humanities. The humanist finds value in things which cannot always be reduced to algebraic truth-functions. But perhaps these are all materialist phenomena, explained by neurochemistry?

Another point: listening to a discussion on irrationality led me to think about how agency is to an extent predicated on the capacity for rational action. Liberal philosophers who argue for human freedoms must assume that people are capable of judging their own best interests. Otherwise, they should allow authoritarian-minded technocrats to "nudge" people into objectively better choices.

All of these issues are complex, and I'm sure that I'm not doing them justice here, but I think they are relevant to the subtext of this book, and to our current scientifically oriented climate. This shouldn't prejudice one's expectations of this book, with which this review hasn't dealt much. So here goes: it is lively, erudite and full of practical examples. Recommended to anyone with the relevant interest.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 25, 2015 – Finished Reading
March 26, 2015 – Shelved
March 26, 2015 – Shelved as: economics

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Jan (new)

Jan Interesting, the comment that modern man acts in an irrational manner could have come from Dostoyevsky.

message 2: by Josh (last edited Apr 01, 2015 02:54AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Josh Friedlander Yes, I'd definitely put him on the anti-rationalist side of things. Maybe anti-rational thinkers can be divided into two groups: counter-Enlightenment Romantics (Nietzsche, poststructuralists, Isaiah Berlin's trio of Vico-Herder-Hamann), and German Enlightenment thinkers - who themselves were entwined with Idealist/neo-Kantian and Romantic notions from the outset. The nature of the German Enlightenment was much less straightforwardly positivist than that of the French (Diderot, Voltaire) or British (Hume, Mill, and later Russell), but it is the pragmatic and skeptical nature of the latter which informs today's intellectual climate, at least in the Anglophone world. (Once again my response has little to do with the book...)

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