We are almost all aware that the word 'rational' refers to the quality of our thinking.  But my experience is
that we very often conflate the meaning(s) of this word with those of the words 'valid', 'logical', and
'reasonable'.  The distinctions we need between each of these four words for the purposes of problem-solving
dialogue appear to me to be beyond the scope of even the most diligent team of dictionary editors.  I
therefore often present my clients with a table making distinctions between what these words symbolize,
distinctions that vary with the desires, not always conscious, of the parties trying to solve a problem:
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Goal of Articulator for
Receiver's Assessment
of Message:
Articulator: "I want my message assessed as ....
... Valid"
... Logical"
... Reasonable"
... Rational"
Articulator's Typical
Purpose:
Deliver a judgment
or verdict
Persuade or motivate
to a point of view
Develop, maintain,
and hopefully
improve affinity
Educate or enlighten
from a disabling
denial or ignorance
Expectation in
Articulator's Choice of
Words to Convey
Message:
Receiver will…

REACT
by quickly judging
the thought
articulated as
conforming with a
value system the
receiver has
automatically been
taking as a given
Receiver will…

REACT
by quickly judging the
thought articulated
as “sounding OK”
Receiver will …

RESPOND
to what he/she
perceives as a mild
challenge: to re-
cognize the idea
articulated as a
logical extension of
his/her existing
beliefs (or at least
indicative the
articulator is
harmless)
Receiver will …

RESPOND
to what he/she
perceives as a strong
challenge:
to gain freedom from
beliefs the articulator
appears to have
proven have now
become either
enslaving or
debilitating
Qualities, skills,
knowledge required of
articulator:
Intimate knowledge
of the specifics of
the receiver’s value
system
Fashionable,
vernacular literacy
Empathy through
narrative relevance
&/or pertinent
technical literacy
Courage, insight,
patience,
persistence,
dedication to verbal
truth
Articulator exemplars*:
Alpha male (or
female) boss
“Run of the mill”
politicians
FDR, Churchill. but
also most of us at
our social bests
Gandhi, Groening,
Einstein, Mandela
* - The public figures I have chosen as exemplars of the meaning/spirit I sense to be embodied in the words
‘reasonable’ and ‘rational’ are my personal choices, of course. If you should have any doubts about any of the
exemplars, I invite you to reflect on the reality that a titanic struggle often breaks out between would-be
monopolists of what “the" truth is.  And neither you nor I would be monopolists -- would we?!
© 2009-12 by Angus Cunningham – permission requests to angusc@authentixcoaches.com

The Word 'Rationality'
and its Common Conflations

(c) 2010-14 by
Angus Cunningham
Principal, Authentix Coaches

In the current era, scientific purists who champion the idea that truth can be made up of statements that are
universally true based on the repeatability of observable tests proving their validity are ranged against
religious purists who champion the idea that only by privileged access to the Divine or some other authority
can one be sure one is knowledgeable as to what ‘the' truth is.

Both categories of purists are, in my opinion, ‘dyed’ in a wool of their own particular needs/tastes for psychic
security, and many of us are no doubt ‘dyed’ unconsciously.  My selection, therefore, of exemplars in the table
has no intention to identify myself in one or another of these fundamentalist camps.  Each protagonist of the
meaning of the word ‘rationality’ is, in my opinion, offering us a valuable but incomplete aspect of whole truth.
As consciously as we each believe to be vitally necessary to preserve our own particular life's meaning/interest,
we guide our efforts to ‘be rational’ by both our inner personal senses of truth and by our shared outer
senses of what the data of which we have clear observation, including the sensory data we have of other’s
presences, imply.  If, therefore, you think my selection of one or another of the exemplars of rationality cited
in this table is ill-chosen, I hope that judgment will not deter you from considering the three criteria in the
table by which I chose them and then applying, if you wish, the same criteria to arrive at your own choices of
exemplars.  And I hope you will do this in conversation with either a close friend or an
IHXEN Partner because
then you and your partner will have the benefit of enlarging your sense of what the idea and value of
rationality is; and then you will both grow in your capacities, and those of others with whom you converse
seriously, to sustain rationality in the service of all.

Would that not be the destiny that anthropologists who coined the name "
Homo Rationalis" have in mind for
our species?  Interestingly, the Romans didn't have a word for 'reasonable'.  They only had a word for
'rational'.  It must have been the French, with the word 'raison', who began to introduce to the Western world
at least, the distinction that now exists in English between the idea and value of the word 'reasonable' and the
idea and value of the word 'rational'.

Someone once said "
All progress depends on the unreasonable man".  Whoever said that was (a) aware that
to be rational is not the same as to be reasonable, (b) probably a man rather than a woman, and (c) not
proficient enough in language usage to be both rational and reasonable at the same time.  FDR, Churchill, Ike,
and JFK -- and also Gandhi, Groening, Einstein, and Mandela -- were proficient enough to be, extraordinarily
often, both rational and reasonable at the same time, although none of them at all times.  Clearly, the
vocabulary and idiomatic usages of vocabulary that a problem-solving language must include will be large; and
those successful in using it will be aware, I believe, of distinctions similar to the ones in the table above and
also as good at listening and questioning tactfully as they are good at articulating both rationally and
reasonably.  
Eye-Zen English is intended to comprise linguistic principles that make one's selection and
interpretation of English words and structures serve problem-solving purposes.

In his book “
The Upside of Irrationality”, author Dan Ariely highlights this latter deficiency in the worldview of
many economists.  Citing data that shows very large bonuses are unlikely to improve performance, and
likewise challenging many of the shibboleths of traditional economics, his book begins to show how many
people in positions of power are freighted with self-image enhancing simplifications of the complexities involved
in the polarity between emotionality and rationality.  The realities in which we believe seem to me to be both
much more complex and much simpler than many ambitious and/or fashionable professionals imagine, or at
least are prepared to address in their theorizing, whether for academic discovery or for practical decision-
making in relation to the great social issues of politics and organizational life.

The complexity of the dichotomies involved might be represented more completely by the diagram below:
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