5 types of rationality according to Max Weber

Reason and emotion almost always appear together. In fact, figures such as the sociologist Max Weber have already realized this, since human beings act in many cases out of their feelings.

  • What is emotional memory?
  • Practical intelligence: what does it consist of?
  • Hindsight bias: what does it consist of?

Are we human beings truly rational creatures? The cognitive psychology has spent decades convincing ourselves that it is. Moreover, as Max Weber, father of sociology, proposed to us, there are even different types of rationality that allow us to process reality from different logical and objective perspectives.

However, in recent decades, as we well know, we have begun to turn our attention to the field of emotions. Thus, figures such as the neurologist Antonio Damasio  tell us that people are actually emotional beings who reason .

Both spheres, reason and emotion, make us wonderful analysts by making great decisions and transforming our reality from exceptional ideas and thoughts.

Likewise, it should be noted that we all have the ability to think logically and analytically. What’s more, that ability is what distinguishes us from animals and what has led to our evolutionary success. Executive abilities such as reasoning, comparing, deciding, correcting, planning or regulating one’s own behavior is what has brought us to the point where we are.

Understanding how people reason will undoubtedly allow us to know each other much better.

“The obvious is the least expected.”

-Max Weber-

The types of rationality according to Max Weber: which one do you identify with?

Max Weber was born at the end of the 20th century and continues to be a benchmark in many respects . He was a great intellectual, a controversial man who stood out strongly in the field of philosophy , economics, politics, history and, above all, in sociology.

He also emerged as a liberal and pro-democrat, someone especially concerned about the anti-Semitic movements that were already appearing in his day-to-day life just before the outbreak of World War II. Thus, one of his concerns throughout his career was to understand why people interacted in certain ways and not in others.

His objective was to understand what was behind social action and for this he stipulated something interesting: we were all governed by 5 types of rationality.

The rationality that seeks an end (instrumentalization)

If we had to define rationality we would do it in a very simple way. It is a behavior from which to control basic instincts, postpone gratification and be able to achieve something very concrete in the short and long term.

We reason not only to adapt to the environment . What we also want is to achieve something from it, benefit ourselves and gain in well-being.

Therefore, one of the most basic and elemental types of rationality is instrumental. It is one that makes it easier for us to interact with other people and contexts to achieve something concrete.

The rationality that is carried away by the emotions (affective)

Max Weber died in 1920, however, already at that time he knew very well the impact that emotions have on social behavior.

People are not machines that react to stimuli . We are not entities that reason coldly and logically to take advantage of that world and take advantage of it.

Our emotions and feelings govern, in most cases, our own behavior. This means that, at times, many of our decisions are more impulsive than logical or that our way of reacting to stimuli is somewhat oversized.

The beliefs that determine us, the conditioned rationality

Among the different types of rationality we find that mediated by one’s own beliefs. We would love to always apply an objective type of thinking, free of prejudices, pristine from cognitive biases and alien to social conditioning. However, our beliefs are there, permeating everything we are, feel and think.

Something like this can, for example, make us think that it is not good to take our children to a public school because the education is mediocre or that, on the contrary, that it is not good to take them to a private one because they can indoctrinate them.

That is, sometimes, beliefs are wired that limit logical reasoning. He is able to see things objectively, being able to analyze each factor calmly, without conditioning, prejudice or irrational ideas.

Conventional thinking

Conventional reasoning comes to us from the social context in which we are born, from which we learn and which delimits us on a daily basis. Max Weber was very aware of how culture and traditions mediate our way of thinking .

Whether we want it or not, we are the product of our education, of what society inoculates us, of the fashions that surround us and of what we see every day.

It is not easy to put conventional thinking aside to reason more freely. However, knowing that among the different types of reasoning this is influenced by our environment should invite us to keep it in mind.

Our reasoning is an eclectic combination of all the above

As we can well deduce, none of us think only emotionally or instrumentally. The type of approach that we use in our daily lives is a combination of all the aforementioned typologies. We make decisions based on deep-rooted emotions, conventions, and beliefs.

We are the product of each experience, education received and the scenario in which we move every day. All this is impregnated in our ability to decide, create and transform our reality. We are, after all, creatures immersed in a social environment guided by emotions and needs.

“Enlightenment in the broadest sense of forward thinking has always pursued the goal of eliminating fear from people and using it as a teacher.


by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

Leave a Comment