The Rational Future Institute

Rational Future Institute - Frequently Asked Questions
What are the goals of the Rational Future Institue

The mission of the Rational Future Institute is to help people make decisions that better accord with their values by raising public awareness of the principles of rationality.

Does the RFI take specific positions on economic or social policy?

The RFI holds only positions directly related to the public understanding of the principles of rational thinking. The RFI does not advocate for specific conclusions on social or economic policy, but does advocate for policies that will help the public understand rationality and human thinking processes.

What is the difference between rational thinking and critical thinking?

A perfectly rational thinker would always attune his degree of belief in a statement to the degree of evidence for its truth. As we know, humans are not perfectly rational, and we sometimes find ourselves with intuitive beliefs that we could not justify if we tried.

Critical thinking is the process we use to correct or validate our automatic beliefs.

Critical thinking most commonly refers to techniques for assessing information that is given to us by others, such as news reports, political statements or advertising claims. Critical thinking also refers to honesty and consistency in checking our personal beliefs and preconceptions.

Critical thinking is a collection of techniques we can use to help us get closer to ideal rational thinking.

How does the Rational Future Institute promote rational thinking?

The first step towards a more rational society is in educating the public about precisely what rational thinking entails. Only a tiny minority of citizens can clearly state what it means to think rationally, and it's difficult to be more rational when one doesn't know what rationality is.

What is the best way to teach people about ideal rationality?

We don't yet know! But we can probably find out. A good place to start is by creating a resource for people seeking or sharing  information about rationality.

The second step is to educate people about the ways we all predictably deviate from ideal rational thinking, and the costs (and benefits) associated with our automatic modes of thought. The most obvious cost of automatic thinking is that it leaves us prey to marketing and political messages that might cause us to choose in ways that don't serve our values. 

What is the best way to teach people about their biases?

Again, we don't yet know! But we can probably find out. We will start by promoting the work of experts in the field of cognitive bias. There are some wonderful popular works on this subject, and you'll find links to them on our resources page.

Finally, a clear understanding of the value of rational thinking prompts some obvious questions about what we can do to overcome our cognitive limitations. How do we measure skills in rational thinking? Can we train ourselves to be less biased? What kinds of technological aids should be incorporated into best practices?

These are exciting questions, and we invite you to join as as we search for answers.

What is the connection between philosophy and rationality?

There are many areas of philosophy, but to the extent that philosophy is about providing ultimate reasons for beliefs, philosophy is really about reasoning.

The rules of reasoning cannot be proven correct by the rules of reasoning because any proof would be circular.  That is, to prove the rules of reasoning would have to assume what we intend to prove. However, if we try to reject the rules of reasoning, then we will have to reject notions of truth and falsehood. This means that, on a technicality, the rules of reasoning cannot be false because there is no such things as "false" without rules of reasoning. If we are to hold truths and give justification for our beliefs, then we have to treat the rules of reasoning as axioms - as grounding assumptions.

Is rational thinking a matter for psychologists?

Not in theory, but in practice.

The ideals of rational thinking are a matter for philosophy. However, the ways in which we predictably deviate from rational thinking are a function of our psychology (and our neurobiology). To be more rational, we need to understand how we are prone to think in irrational ways. These modes of irrational thinking are called cognitive biases.

Copyright 2011 Rational Future Institute NFP