Humility and Rationality

Humility and Rationality

Humility and Rationality
By Wade Lee Hudson

A review
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011, 512 Pages

Controlling emotions, instincts, intuitions, and biases is like riding an elephant. As Jonathan Haidt wrote: “The emotional tail wags the rational dog.” In his magnum opus, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman sums up decades of research and urges readers to strengthen “slow thinking” to better manage “fast thinking.” Rationality demands discipline, practice, and effort, but over-confident, we often fail. A humble understanding of why and how we don’t always choose the most rational action can help us be better human beings. 

Kahneman argues that humans

often need help to make more accurate judgments and better decisions, and in some cases policies and institutions can provide that help. The assumption that agents are rational provides the intellectual foundation for the libertarian approach to public policy: do not interfere with the individual's right to choose, unless the choices harm others. For behavioral economists, however, freedom has a cost, which is borne by individuals who make bad choices, and by society that feels obligated to help him. The decision of whether or not to protect individuals against their mistakes, therefore, presents a dilemma.

Whether to require motorcyclists to wear helmets is an example. Requiring everyone to get health insurance is another.

Social-change activists have much to learn from Kahneman’s work, which calls for a commitment to overcome the arrogance that interferes with learning from mistakes. No wonder pride has been considered the number-one sin, and humility the number-one virtue. 

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