Rationality is the idea of being in accordance with reason and logic. When rationalistic explanations are given for human behavior, emphasis is given on logical, systematic, and intelligent thought processes. Rationality opposes the usage of emotions and other elements that are generally considered to be irrational, such as superstition, in explaining behavior and events.
The idea of rationality can be traced back to rationalism. Rationalism is the philosophical belief that knowledge can be gained by engaging actively in systematic mental activity. The rationalists believed that the mind actively interacts with information and derives some meaning out of it, suggesting that the mind is active.
Further, the rationalists believed that many of the processes involved among human beings are innate. They suggested that innate mental structures, operations, or abilities are involved in analysing thought.
The rationalists also felt that the idea of truth cannot be determined by merely experience and beliefs. According to them, conclusions about truth must be ascertained by making logical deductions and analysis, emphasizing a rational system in arriving at truth.
|Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz|
In opposition to rationalism, a number of scholars felt that an emphasis on intellect and rationality is too dry to understand the essence of human nature. This idea is referred to as irrationalism, and emerged as a reaction against the Age of Reason, in the 19th century. Proponents of irrationalism believed that instead of logic and intellect, there should be an emphasis on the unique human experiences, feelings and emotions, and the will.
The idea of irrationalism was strongly represented in romanticism or the Romantic movement, which gave emphasis to subjectivity. Scholars within this philosophy believed that in going with the idea of rationalism, somewhere, the individual human gets lost. They, thus, felt that in explaining human behavior, feelings and emotions, give a lot more meaning. This is what is said to be the Romantic movement.
The debate of rationalism versus irrationalism has been continuing for years. It is even prevalent in contemporary psychology, where it has been found that psychologists often favoring either rationalism or irrationalism. A good example of this debate can be found in the modern concept of intelligence.
The earlier notion of intelligence can be viewed as more of a representation of the philosophy of rationalism. A number of psychologists found this notion of intelligence to be very limited. Moreover, they felt that intelligence being measured by the existing intelligence tests is more about academic abilities, and may not be useful in everyday life.
Gardner, through his theory of multiple intelligences, was opposing the early notion of intelligence that psychologists had found to be too simplistic and limited in scope. There have been other psychologists, much before Gardner, who have been trying to describe intelligence beyond academic abilities.
Both Thorndike and Weschler were describing intelligence that was different from the earlier notions. They were still not completely dissociating intelligence from rationality, which can be reflected in Thorndike’s description of “acting wisely” and Weschler’s description of “to think rationally”. However, they were also describing intelligence in ways that was not just limited to academic abilities.
It was these initial diversions from the early notions of intelligence that eventually led Salovey and Mayer to come up with the concept of emotional intelligence. It is quite clear that the term used by Salovey and Mayer comprises of two words that are said to be the opposite of each other – “emotion” and “intelligence”.
Emotions have often been described as disturbances, something that is disorganized and chaotic, and leads to a loss of control. It has also been suggested that emotions distort judgment. Emotions, in this way, are the opposite of logic and reason. This difference between emotions and rationality can be traced back to the rationalism versus irrationalism debate.
By introducing a term like “emotional intelligence”, Salovey and Mayer brought together these two opposing perspectives, that is, rationalism and irrationalism. This is further reflected in their definition of emotional intelligence, which talks about monitoring one’s own and others’ emotions, and using it to guide one’s thinking and actions. The latter part of this statement is representing aspects of rationality.
Further, emotional intelligence involves understanding one’s emotions, which enhances self-awareness, helps in not being overwhelmed by the situation, allowing proper decision making. Additionally, emotional intelligence involves the understanding of the emotions of others, which allows having positive personal and social interactions, managing conflict, and thus, helping in not making erratic and inappropriate judgments.
In a way, Salovey and Mayer in describing something like emotional intelligence are suggesting to use emotions in an intelligent manner. Accordingly, the emotions that have often been said to distort judgment, if used properly, if channelized in the right direction, can actually be used to enhance judgment. Therefore, emotional intelligence can perhaps be viewed as a concept that is merging the two opposing philosophical perspectives of rationalism and irrationalism.
The debate of rationalism versus irrationalism has been going on for years. Rationalism, the philosophy emphasizing logic and reason, and irrationalism, the philosophy emphasizing the use of emotions, have been viewed as strong oppositions. However, the emergence of the concept of emotional intelligence has brought these two opposing philosophies together, in the sense that one compliments the other. It can therefore be said that the concept of emotional intelligence takes a mid-way path of the rationalism versus irrationalism debate.