A person is late for work; he sees an elderly lady going across the street pushing a shopping cart. He starts fearing for her safety, as the traffic light won’t be red for a long time. The person approaches the elderly lady and helps her cross the street by offering to push the shopping cart. What kind of rationality has led him to acting like that? It is the substantive rationality; a type of sense determined independently of its expectations of success that characterizes a human act that is not interested in the attainment of a subsequent outcome from such act; the action manifests itself through the merit of the values that inspire it on the basis of a high ethical level guided by a criterion that transcends advantage, profit or obligation.  https://spboasia88.xn--6frz82g/

The day after, the City Council sends a police officer to take care of the streets of that neighborhood. The police officer sees the elderly lady again going back home pushing her shopping cart and helps her cross the street. This type of rationality is referred to as instrumental rationality and is characterized by the level of accuracy in achieving goals, therefore being based upon calculation and cost/benefit ratio. In this type of rationality the quality of the actions is not appreciated, but their major or minor contribution to achieve an established goal, no matter the level of said actions. In the case just presented, the police officer helped the lady cross the street because it is his obligation as a police officer in the neighborhood, irrespectively whether he thinks that lady should stay home and have someone else do the shopping for her, or whether he appreciates the daring manner that elderly lady faces her age and duties.

Apparently, substantive rationality seems to be nobler than the instrumental rationality, which sounds somewhat devious; but, it’s not how these two senses should be looked at. Even though the substantive rationality is less abundant on the planet, society wouldn’t have achieved a reasonable level of social and economic development without the instrumental rationality: without organizing itself in well-structured groups (family, school, church, company, condominium, social club, social institutions etc.), with no pre-established objectives, with no assignment of tasks, with no control of outcomes. Nevertheless, the withering of the substantive rationality does bring about some scourges that corrode modern society: lack of ethics, corruption, crimes against property or against life.

What is contradictory in such atrophy is that man’s substantive rationality would be expected to increase as mankind evolves in its instrumentality by living in community, working in teams, taking on roles of high responsibility (father, head of the family, manager of people, member of assistance communities), and by improving his knowledge on technological and social sciences, thus making man more supportive, ethical and committed to the society where he lives. So, what is the reason for so much attachment to the instrumentality of one’s actions and reaching extreme, unexpected, and even non-civilized behaviors? Brazilian composer and musical producer, Itamar Assumpção (1949-2003), in one of his lyrics to the song ‘Aprendiz de Feiticeiro’, addresses these evils of the human being, making sure that, despite being affected by undesirable behaviors on a daily basis, these do not undermine man’s conviction to follow a more substantive path. The verses of the song say: “I’ve learned that ignorance, sordidness and greed are all lava from this volcano. I’ve learned this smoke mists my window on the outside, not inside!”

By yanam49

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