Difference between being rational and rationalizing?

I find the term ‘rationalizing’ quite misleading because as I understand it the term is generally used in a derogatory sense to say someone is using a willful self-deception to hide from the truth. I say misleading cos when we say a person is a ‘rational person’ then I think it’s commonly understood that they are the type of person who wants ALL information about a certain situation so that they can ‘rationalize’ the best course of action. So really the term ‘rationalizing’ as it is most commonly used in psychology and general talk seems to mean the OPPOSITE to actually behaving rationally; it seems to mean you behave irrationally by just making up the flimsiest justification for a course of action while repressing any contradictory evidence.

I’d like to hear other’s distinctions of it.

What is the distinction between behaving in a rational manner and ‘rationalizing’? How does one know when they are acting rationally vs just rationalizing?

Well, there are many ways that you can rationalize something. Mainly, the term that you portrayed to have been popularly portrayed means… to either ponder situational circumstances in order to decide a beneficial act… or to ponder things that espouse preferable reasons to commit an action, justifying it to yourself.

I prefer, however, to “rationalize” in a manner that seeks a course of action that will advance a goal. Obviously, this process must be both deductive and very careful. First, I observe something in an objective way. Then, I postulate all the possibilities of what that observation indicates. Considering the goal in mind along with the observational indications, I’ll then rationalize the most beneficial course of action for me to take in response to the observation.

To ensure that I am approaching this with clarity, I will say this… imagine that you are a serial killer being questioned by a detective concerning the murders that you have committed, but there’s not a shred of physical evidence that reveals your legal guilt. Obviously, your goal would be to conceal yourself, portraying yourself as an innocent person who just happened to become a suspect. In order to do this, you must contemplate…: How would an innocent person react to this? And then, make sure that you respond to bluffs in the same way that an innocent person would… and if the detective is playing a persuasive trick on you, then you need to show a reaction that doesn’t indicate your legal guiltiness.

Simple things are rationalized… it’s only when you try to morally justify something that is obviously wrong… that causes problems.

Pay attention to the goal… deduce information and analyze the situation… don’t reveal yourself… these things involve a very deductive approach towards rationalization. This, I will say, is my definition of the term. Specifically, my personal definition.

Kind Regards,
~Moral Jeff

The distinction is simple: “Behaving in a rational manner” is using logical deduction in order to decide how you should behave. “Rationalizing”, on the other hand, has different definitions, but it generally means to justify something based on flimsy facts, logical ignorance, and a lack of evidence. So, to rationalize in the sense of its general definition is equivalent to wasting time and ignoring consequences. The latter, however, uses the knowledge at hand and doesn’t involve plugging your ears or covering your eyes.

Using empathy and perspective-taking, you can deduce, given that you know the information of the person’s situation, whether their actions were rational or blind. When I say “blind”, what I really mean is deliberately omitting information from your thoughts because you don’t like it or it doesn’t suit your goal.

Kind Regards,
~Moral Jeff

To rationalise is to introduce premises that were previously thought irrelevant or unnecessary, in order to reach a predetermined and desired conclusion that wasn’t reachable through the previously operant argument.

“Oh, it’s a wedding, after all. If I don’t have a piece of cake, they’ll think I don’t bless the marriage. Besides, I already weigh 300 pounds and have diabetes. What’s one piece of cake going to do?”

Here, the speaker is “rationalising” his decision to eat cake, by injecting the required premises into an argument that I don’t think I need make explicit, but which is perfectly rational. The resulting argument is just as rational - the rub lies in the premises, which may have a somewhat murky truth value, but which are still accepted as true.

Thanks for replies.

Yes, Faust, this is what I’m talking about and why I want to understand it better.

At the moment I can plainly see/feel that something is awry with these ‘flimsy’ rationalizing statements but at the same time I don’t yet fully understand why it is so; it’s just I know intuitively when someone is rationalizing and it rubs me the wrong way but I can’t yet say why precisely.

How is it that it is still rational and yet at the same time you can clearly know it’s pretty much horseshit? Does this men that rational doesn’t necessarily have bearing on what is more true? or moreso what is more in one’s best interests (lets not go down that path of what is true as it would be to enter a thicket that is best left alone for this discussion)

Is it better to think of it as- there is good rationalizing and bad rationalizing- like macdonalds and (enter your favourite archetypal cuisine here). Like britney vs. chopin? ‘Rationalizing’ in the neurotic type sense could then just be seen as ‘trashy’ rationalizing whereas good rationalizing is your good old scholarly philosophy for instance? I just wanna know if I’m on the right lines here.

There are two components to an argument that we must consider. They are distinct and not co-dependent. One is the validity of the form - the argument per se, that is. The other is the veracity of the premises.

Yeah, that’s what it means. Ever fallen in love with someone that “it makes no sense” to fall in love with? Is it on that account not true that you’ve fallen in love?

Sorry. It just came out. But there is short-term and longterm interest. Which is best? To quote my favorite John Belushi movie, “Life is full of little trade-offs”.

It depends upon your goals. If you kept to strictly “rational” thinking, you’d probably never get laid. Is pure reason a reasonable way to live?

I’d disagree with the never get laid bit.

My ‘hit rate’ has increased considerably precisely because I was able to act rationally when my cock wanted immediate gratification. I.e. my cock wants to jump a girl’s bones right there and then but I know logically through failed attempts that she isn’t ‘ready’ yet so I thus withhold my pass until I have done more to arouse the girl emotionally such that she will accept my pass. I think that is taking one’s emotions into consideration and honouring them (rather than trying to ignore and repress them like a monk) but using one’s rationally to know when is the correct time to make your play.

Without that and just being led by the balls I would have continued to lead a sexless life as it was only when I started calculating that my hit rates improved slowly but surely.

You speak of love but that is just another strong emotion and that would be ‘irrational’. I think head over heels type love is actually opposed to logic cos it seems one only is able to fully ‘fall’ for someone when they suspend their reasoning capacities- like one of Kierkegaard’s leaps of faith. Then after the fact the person ‘rationalizes’ all the reasons they love them.

I think it’s probably why I rarely feel emotions strongly as I am very rational about nearly everything. I know that my emotions drive everything though. I’ve been realizing recently that it’s pretty much all encompassing- ie there is no action without emotion. So emotion comes first- either good or bad then rationality comes in as an aid to either move one towards or away from the emotion (depending on whether it was good or bad). True enough without ANY emotions I would not have been impelled to get laid in the first place.

I suppose in psychological terms this is standard id, ego, superego stuff. The ego is the rational, conscious, part which seeks to reconcile the contradictory pulls appeals of the id (wanting instant gratification) and the superego (wanting you to be a ‘good pilgrim’ lest ye be judged).

I think you’re confusing patience with reason.

Yeah, that was my point.

That’s too bad.

Patience is a logical choice though and thus an adjunct of reasonably DECIDing to wait it out wouldn’t you say?

Perhaps you’re just rationalising your patience now?


I think that using emotion and logic as paired opposites is a mistake. Many Star Trek subplots notwithstanding.

of course your dinner may be rationed

but there will still be no rational reason to believe that the food that nourished you yesterday will nourish you today…


Also how do you distinguish between ‘making excuses for yourself’ vs. having a legitimate reason for not doing it? Again I could say I can usually ‘feel’ it but can’t explain exactly how so.

Like if someone were to say ‘I don’t want to go to the gym today because of X’. I suppose it takes a little rational thought to decide whether it is legitimate or not. Like if you give is because it is raining vs. because your arm is broken.

I suppose these both fall under the field of ‘common sense’.