Re: Sanderson on individuals and systems

Wed, 23 Apr 1997 00:12:12 -0400 (EDT)
Andrew Wayne Austin (


Thanks for your response. I do limit rationality to a particular form of
cognitive structuring and system ordering. But not as restrictive as you
make it seem. Rationality is a particular mode of thinking that grows out
of Greek analytics and provides the basis of certain forms of mathematics,
logics, and social organization. In my view, there are not different
"rationalities." In your post, "rational" is being used as a general term
for cognitive structures and processes. This is not constructive. In my
usage, a usage carrying more discriminatory power, a certain strategy of
cognitive structures/processes are defined as rational if they meet an
operational definition. Other strategies are practical, non-linear,
holistic, dialectical, fuzzy, etc. Rational in this sense not only defines
a cognitive system based on linear, hierarchical ordering of propositions,
but also on the organization of social affairs based on this logic. So
bureaucracy, as explicated by Weber, is an example of rational structuring
of social activity. The bureaucracy does not represent an intrinsic/
transepochal rational calculating nature of human beings. Rather the
bureaucracy represents those instances where rational modes of social
organization have come to dominate. Because of the logic of capitalism,
which is based on, in part, the rational calculus, bureaucracy also
appears as the logical organization of human activity. Unlike capitalism,
there are other social formations that do not structure social activity
rationally. Therefore, Sanderson's assertion of intrinsic rationality is
false, based on historical reality. Furthermore, if we permit Sanderson to
use the term "rationality" to stand for any cognitive style, as in the
notion of "rationalities," then we are exactly back to the problem I have
articulated. We are begging the question; we permit a self-sealing
argument. By understanding a multiplicity of cognitive structures and
processes, and understanding rationality as only one cognitive pattern
among many, we now have an analytically useful system with which to
discriminate among empirical realities. Moreover, understanding that
cognitive structuring emerges from the deep structuring of material forces
and social relations of production, we may avoid the idealist position
that social systems emerge out of individual cognitive structures and
patterns. This is a criticism I did not articulate in my initial post, but
it is as damning as any of the others. Sanderson's argument is idealism.

Andrew Austin