AskDefine | Define irrationality

Dictionary Definition

irrationality n : the state of being irrational; lacking powers of understanding [syn: unreason]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The quality or state of being irrational; want of the faculty or the quality of reason; fatuity.
  2. Something which is irrational or brought forth by irrational action, judgement, idea or thought.


Extensive Definition

For irrationality as it relates to numbers, see irrational number.
Irrationality is talking or acting without regard of rationality. Usually pejorative, the term is used to describe thinking and actions which are, or appear to be, less useful or logical than the rational alternatives. There is a clear tendency to view our own thoughts, words, and actions as rational and to see those who disagree as irrational.
Types of behavior which are often described as irrational include:
These more contemporary 'normative' conceptions of what constitutes a manifestation of irrationality prove difficult to empirically demonstrate because it is not clear by whose standards we are to judge rational or irrational behavior.

Why does irrational behavior occur?

The study of irrational behavior is of interest in fields such as psychology, cognitive science, economics, game theory, and evolutionary psychology, as well as of practical interest to the practitioners of advertising and propaganda.
Theories of irrational behavior include:
  • people's actual interests differ from what they believe to be their interests.
  • mechanisms that have evolved to give optimal behavior in normal conditions lead to irrational behavior in abnormal conditions.
  • In situations outside of one's ordinary circumstances, one may experience intense levels of fear, or may regress to a Fight or flight mentality.
  • people fail to realize the irrationality of their actions and believe they are acting perfectly rational, possibly due to flaws in their reasoning.
  • apparently irrational decisions are actually optimal, but made unconsciously on the basis of "hidden" interests that are not known to the conscious mind
  • an inability to comprehend the social consequences of one's own actions, possibly due in part to a lack of empathy.
  • Some people find themselves in this condition by living "double" lives. They try to put on one "mask" for one group of people and another for a different group of people. Many will become confused as to which they really are or which they wish to become.
Factors which affect rational behavior include:
  • stress, which in turn may be emotional or physical
  • the introduction of a new or unique situation
  • intoxication

Intentional Irrationality

Irrational is not always viewed as a negative. The Dada and Surrealist art movements, for example, embraced irrationality as a means to "reject reason and logic". Andre Breton, for example, argued for a rejection of pure logic and reason which are seen as responsible for many contemporary social problems
In science fiction literature, the progress of pure rationality is viewed as a quality which may lead civilization ultimately toward a scientific future dependent on technology. Irrationality in this case, is a positive factor which helps to balance excessive reason.
In psychology, excessive rationality without creativity may be viewed as a form of self-control and protection. Certain problems, such as death and loss, may have no rational solution when they are being experienced. We may seek logical explanations for such events, when in fact the proper emotional response is grief. Irrationality is thus a means of freeing the mind toward purely imaginative solutions, to break out of historic patterns of dependence into new patterns that allow one to move on.


Irrationalist is a wide term. It may be applied to mean one without rationality, for their beliefs or ideas. Or, more precisely, it may mean someone who rejects some aspect of rationalism, variously defined. For example religious faith may be seen as, in part, a rejection of complete rationalism about the world; this would be contested by some religious thinkers, in that the rational is a debatable term. On the other hand, it might be considered irrationalist to buy a lottery ticket, on the basis that the expected value is negative.
Irrational thought was seen in Europe as part of the reaction against Continental rationalism. For example Hamann is sometimes classified as an irrationalist.

Irrationality and literature

Irrational behaviour has always been a notable target to satirical writers and philosophers.


External links

irrationality in German: Irrational
irrationality in Polish: Irracjonalność
irrationality in Finnish: Irrationaalisuus

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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