Forms of rationality

Brad C. Anderson

Rationality has been a focus of philosophical discussion for a long time. Consequently, many thinkers have written extensively on the subject. This section presents a framework of rationality developed by Barbara Townley.[1]

Her work mostly draws from the work of Western philosophers. Other cultures have their own traditions of rationality. Additionally, her work focused on rationality as expressed in organizations, which may not apply to all facets of human activity.

This textbook’s reliance on Dr. Townley’s work does not imply that her perspectives on rationality are right and others wrong. This textbook focuses on her framework for its focus on rationality as it operates in organizations and its utility in categorizing different forms of rationality succinctly.

You may find other frameworks of rationality better meet your needs. The purpose of this section is not to present the “right” way to understand rationality. Instead, it seeks to start a discussion on the varied forms rationality may take.

Dr. Townley described three faces of rationality that the following sections will describe: disembedded, embedded, and embodied.

  • Disembedded rationalities presume that truth is separate (or disembedded) from human activity. That is, the truth is “out there,” and through the application of objective analyses, we can learn what those truths are.
  • Conversely, the view that people embed truth in a specific social context is the basis of embedded rationalities. To learn what is rational, individuals must seek to understand the social environment in which they operate.
  • Embodied rationalities argue that it is through our bodies that we experience the world. Thus, understanding the world requires that we interpret our visceral, lived experiences.
  • After exploring these three faces of rationality, Dr. Townley then explored collective rationality, which describes how rationality operates in group settings.
  • She then finished her framework with thoughts on how societies can develop practical reason, which combines multiple forms of rationality to create deep, rich understandings of the world.[2]

The following sections dive deeper into the faces of rationality Dr. Townley presented.

  1. Townley, B. (2008). Reason’s Neglect: Rationality and Organizing. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.
  2. Townley, B. (2008). Reason’s Neglect: Rationality and Organizing. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.


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Forms of rationality Copyright © 2020 by Brad C. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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