Sociability, rationality and emotions

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I wish to propose that rationality and emotions are intrinsic and inseparable characteristics of human behaviour and the result of social interactions. As such, we should not view them as competing or conflicting forces. The argument relies on the assumptions that humans are rational and all interactions take place within a social setting.

Rationality is the idea that each person acts to maximise her utility without regard for others. However, rational behaviour is bound by one’s social environment and subsequently the availability of information and the type of potential interlocutors (Gigerenzer et al, 2002). Hence, one might be making decisions disregarding everyone else behaving non-tuistically (Gauthier, 1986), but still the decision making process is defined by social environment so that we can speak of social rationality.

Within societies, all interactions are repeated and therefore, one maximises over a series of interactions (Young, 2001). As a result, one has selfish reasons to establish mutually beneficial norms that maximise one’s utility in the long term. Repeated interactions among rational agents lead to social norms that promote mutual benefit. Once established, these norms regulate behaviour within the given social context, given the rationality of interlocutors (Sugden, 2004). Therefore, society is the link between self-interest and other-regarding behaviour. Norms are rooted in rationality, but promote social welfare.

Social norms that are based on rational self-interest, explain the development of social emotions such as empathy and sympathy. Norms or behaviour are internalised over time and reinforced within social groups and through social activities, thus giving rise to other-regarding emotions. Therefore, social emotions are rooted in rationality. However, given that rationality is qualified and filtered through sociability, social interactions lead to the establishment of emotions towards others. Sociability is then the cement that holds together rationality and emotions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sep 2017


  • emotions
  • rationality
  • sociability


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