Emotion, Utility Maximization, and Ecological Rationality

Yakir Levin, Itzhak Aharon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This paper examines the adequacy of an evolutionary-oriented notion of rationality—ecological rationality—that has recently been proposed in economics. Ecological rationality is concerned with what it is rational to do, and in this sense is a version of what philosophers call ‘practical rationality’. Indeed, the question of the adequacy of ecological rationality as it is understood in the paper, is the question of whether ecological rationality is a genuine notion of practical rationality. The paper first explicates and motivates the notion of ecological rationality by (a) explicating the notion of practical rationality, (b) grounding ecological rationality in an evolutionary approach to the emotions which is mainly illustrated by the example of fear, and (c) outlining the reasons adduced in economics for generalizing ecological rationality beyond the emotions. The paper then argues that (d) the raison d’être of practical rationality is first and foremost a specific role it plays in the explanation of behavior, or in telling why it has occurred. Finally, based on (a)–(d), the paper argues that (e) ecological rationality lacks a constitutive feature of practical rationality—namely, normativity—which is related to the latter’s basic explanatory role, and thus cannot be considered a genuine notion of practical rationality. While the paper focuses on the economic version of ecological rationality, its conclusions apply just as well to other, related, versions of the ecological notion that have been proposed in biology and evolutionary psychology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-245
Number of pages19
JournalMind and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 21 Oct 2014


  • Ecological rationality
  • Emotion
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Fear
  • Practical rationality
  • Utility maximization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


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