Part Four: Taking meta-rationality seriously

This page is unfinished. It may be a mere placeholder in the book outline. Or, the text below (if any) may be a summary, or a discussion of what the page will say, or a partial or rough draft.

“Taking meta-rationality seriously” means recognizing that any use of rationality involves meta-rational activity as well. Doing meta-rationality deliberately, rather than mindlessly following implicit defaults, can bring great benefit.

I am posting on Substack draft sections of this Part Four as I write them. There’s an outline of the Part over there.

The draft Introduction to the Part is here.


The invisibility of meta-rationality
If this is so important, why has no one ever heard of it?
Knowledge and understanding
Meta-rational epistemology.
When to get meta-rational
Feeling for when to step back from rationality because meta-rationality is required.
Meta-rational norms
Reasonableness and rationality have qualitatively different sorts of norms; so does meta-rationality.
Meta-rationality and Problems
Finding, choosing, creating, and defining Problems that are formal enough to apply rationality to them.
Opportunities for meta-rational improvement
Foreshadowed in Part Three: its analysis of rationality into parts reveals the sites at which meta-rationality can operate on it.
Meta-rational operations
Evaluating, selecting, combining, modifying, discovering, creating, monitoring, and maintaining rational systems.
Ontological remodeling
Feeling for an ontology; creating abstractions; when to sharpen an ontology and when to melt one.
System building
Using Part Three’s understanding of the moving parts in rationality to guide construction.
Engineering ontological infrastructure
Revising the reasonableness/rationality interface.
Reflection on purposes
Taking responsibility for whys; questions of motivation, value, ethics, and power.
Developing meta-rationality
Becoming meta-rational requires personal transformation, much more than book learning.
A research agenda
Better understanding of meta-rationality requires empirical research, which may have extraordinary practical and intellectual returns due both to inherent leverage and prior neglect. I sketch a program of outstanding questions, plausible approaches, and resource requirements.

Case studies

There is—and can be—no general method for meta-rationality; and its methods are necessarily nebulous. Nevertheless, there is much to say.

Where there are no general rules, a subject is often best explained with case studies. I expect those will be much of the content of the Part.

There is a difficulty, though. Typically case studies introduce or illustrate some simplistic principle that is supposedly extracted from them. That is impossible for meta-rationality, and would unhelpfully misrepresent it. A distinctive feature of meta-rationality is synthesizing a panoramic view of a system’s context and mastery of its intricate technical details to produce effective on-going activity in and around it. To accurately represent even one example of meta-rationality would require explaining far more specifics than is feasible. Writing this Part will, then, require a balancing act between falsifying the essence and overwhelming the reader with tedious details.