Rationality in politics and its limits

Matthew T Johnson (Editor), Terry Nardin, Paul Kelly, Luke O’Sullivan, Sandra Leonie Field, David Martin Jones, Jeremy Arnold, Christina Tarnopolsky, Hui-Chieh Loy, Adrian Pabst, William Bain, Peter D. Finn, Heather M. Roff, Steven B. Smith

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationSpecial issue

2 Citations (Scopus)


The word‘rationality’and its cognates, like‘reason’, have multiple contexts and con-notations. The rationality of calculation (as in‘rational man’) can be contrasted with the rationality of interpretation (a‘reasonable interpretation’). There is the rationality of proof(demonstration) and the rationality of persuasion (which may be rhetorical as well as logical). There is rationality in tradition and rational criticism of tradition. Rationalism(and rationalists) can be reasonable or unreasonable. Reason is distinguished from revelation, superstition, convention, prejudice, emotion, and chance, but these are also aspects of reasoning and – if Descartes’error is indeed an error (Damasio 1994) – some at least may be essential to it. Being clear about these meanings must be part of the agenda of anyone who talks about rationality in politics.This special issue explores alternative understandings of rationality in politics.Leaving aside worries about the existence of rationality arising from the extremes of post-structuralism and neuroscience (Webel 2013), it considers economic, moral, and historical understandings of rationality in relation to politics and political theorizing. Among the topics discussed are the character and limits of different kinds of political reasoning, the role of imagination and emotion in politics, the various meanings of political realism, the relationship between practices and principles, the nature of political judgement, and the distinction between theory and practice. My aim in this introduction is to situate the papers in relation to these themes and suggest how the different kinds of rationality they identify are related to one another and to efforts to understand them.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages198
Specialist publicationGlobal Discourse
PublisherBristol University Press
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015


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