Reason and rationality: Thoughts about Humanism

Humanism is often falsely portrayed as unreasonably rationalistic. This critique is to some level justified as it is easy to forget to act reasonably towards a situation. In his article I will explore reason and rationality further.

Three humanist ideals:
Reason, responsibility and consideration.

Humanists Sweden

What is rational?

Something is rational when it abides to an internal logic, and any one part is deductible or predetermined from its other parts.


The simplest and most coherent form of rational thinking is the ideology. Where Ideo- means idea and -logy means subject matter or teaching. An ideology is characterized as a rational teaching, often with a political or economical goal, without openings for new nuance. Meaning that the teaching is in some way set and focuses on its own characteristics. Most interpretations of ideology’s change over time and follow the popular thought of the time. However it more or less stays consistent with the basic goal and beliefs of the ideology.


There are also rational doctrines, an internal logical coherent systems which build on the aggregated pursuit of knowledge. These are more complex and because of their greater size and lack of inherent goal, often contain logical fallacies or parts which do not fully match each other. This however does not have to constrain the doctrine. Because doctrine becomes too broad to interpret in a singular manner, ideology often arises to explain which parts of the doctrine is most important for example evangelism.

Rational systems do not have to be easily defined into an ideology or doctrine. However this way of organising thought lends itself well for rational systems since they strive for internal order.

What is reasonable?

Reason is the ability to weigh knowledge and experience against doctrine and ideology. A reasonable action is that which takes ground in your life experience and understanding of the world, but which is colored by the doctrine and ideology of your preference, in such a manner that you do not inherently hinder others pursuit of daily life and carries respect and understanding for the actions of others. There should also be a certain element of Metta (loving-kindness) to the respect given.

Metta (loving-kindness)

Metta is a practise in which you wish good fortune to the other person. To act with Metta means not only to act with good intent, but also too really wish it.

Metta can be a practised reaction. Strive to wish people you meet, no matter who or how they treat you, happiness and that they avoid suffering.

To conclude

Reason is different from rationality. Reasonable action is often not rational and rational action is often not reasonable. There is a pragmatism of life to true reasonable action which there just is not in rational action.

A humanist believes in the fallacy of human action and understanding. There are for example things that are not true, but are useful and can therefore be reasonable grounds for thinking and acting without being actually true. In a simply rationalist framework, handling such concepts is hard.

For example the idea that the world is alive is not very connected to the truth, but because of how humans think it can be a reasonable way of thinking of the world. The idea of an eternal judge could also be conceived as reasonable if it helps a person better adhere to their ethics, not because it is true, but because it influences the way we act.

Human thought may never be complete and the art of thinking always be bettered. How to think rationally is important for understanding our world, but to act reasonably is just as important.