Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

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Get rid of the clicky pen. You’re on TV! Clicking your pen… C’mon!


You are having a bit of an equivocation problem toward the end. Ariely’s use of the term “rational” is the economic use. You are using a more general definition of rational. In economics a “rational actor” is someone who seeks to maximize his or her gain at all times. He is not asserting that “rational” people are cold/calculating amoral, etc… There is a long-standing argument in economics and finance attempting to define what a “rational actor” is, so when Ariely is using the term, it doesn’t quite mean what you are asserting.

Mike Bethany


It may be the case that “rational actor” is used in those terms in economics but to then extrapolate and misuse the term to equate it with a lack of emotion is an equivocation, a logical fallacy. Just like when theists equivocate the common meaning of theory with the scientific meaning of theory.

So, it was not the hosts that made the error but the speaker. He took a specialized meaning and extrapolated that meaning to cover all uses of the word.

As the kids say, “Booyakasha!”

Mike Gillis

Mr Bethany is correct. If Ariely was using an economic definition to speak about a hypothetical economic situation, then Ron would be correct. But he takes the word rational out of the specific economic definition and puts it in the realm where a generalized defintion of rational is appropriate, bleeding the lines between the two. By using the term to talk about the hypothetical robbery of a coworker, he’s outside of the realm of economics and into general ethics. Even then, I don’t think stealing is a rational response. My problem with Ariely is that he’s created a strawman of… Read more »

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