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Rationality and Cultural Understanding
Uppsala University, Humanistisk-samhällsvetenskapliga vetenskapsområdet, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy.
2007 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In this dissertation I criticize a common conception of rationality prevalent in analytic philosophy. Rationality is here often seen as a purely cognitive, inner phenomenon which is static and universal, detached from any moral or cultural aspects of human life. I attempt to criticize this notion of rationality through reminders of how concepts such as “rational,” “logical,” and “understanding” enter into our lives. This entails a criticism of classical dichotomies such as the distinction between linguistic form and content, mind and body, fact and value, reason and emotion.

Through a criticism of among others Donald Davidson and Alasdair MacIntyre, I suggest a different approach to the question of understanding others, based on a broader notion of rationality rooted in our spontaneous emotional responses and our concern for other living beings. This will have an impact on how we conceive of the difficulties of understanding people from other cultures, where I argue that both the rationalist and the relativist positions are based on the same mistake of theorizing the notion of understanding. This also has an impact on how we conceive of the actions and thoughts of animals, and our relation to them. Since the classical notion of rationality is a human-centred, linguistic capacity, it has often been denied animals and non-linguistic humans. On the more substantial notion of rationality that I wish to make room for, this is a mistake. I argue that we can ascribe to animals, as well as to small children, psychological predicates such as thoughts and beliefs, on the same grounds as we ascribe them to adult humans. Lastly, I sketch a picture of how language is grounded in a cultural and social surrounding. I argue that this does not imply relativism, instead, it shows why the notion of rationality, as well as the concept of truth, are so important for us. They are not merely theoretical or epistemological concepts (as is the idea of truth as a property of statements) but normative concepts fundamental for our self-understanding, ultimately grounded in what we take to be a good or a dignified life.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Universitetsbiblioteket , 2007. , 193 p.
Keyword [en]
rationality, relativism, logic, understanding, morality, truth, culture, context, Davidson, MacIntyre, Winch.
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-8161ISBN: 978-91-506-1951-5OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-8161DiVA: diva2:170520
Public defence
2007-09-22, Geijersalen, 6, Engelska Parken, Humanistiskt Centrum, Uppsala, 13:15
Available from: 2007-09-03 Created: 2007-09-03Bibliographically approved

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