Thought, Action and Scientific Technology

Joseph Agassi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rationalists assign primacy to rational thought, not to action; irrationalists dispute this. This discrepancy should be recast in view of recent modifications of rationalism. Traditional rationalism ascribes rationality to demonstrated opinions; contemporary rationalism replaces this by some more moderate view. According to traditional rationalism the rationality of actions is borrowed from the rationality of the opinion on which they rest (given actors' goals and circumstances). This creates an unbridgeable chasm between thought and action. It is therefore better to view rationality as a quality of action alone, and take actors' knowledge to be a component of their circumstances, and their search for new knowledge as rational action. As the rationality of opinions, it is now viewed as a matter of tests, which is a rational activity, so that now thought and action may combine. Scientific technology invites further reform of the theory of rationality, with the rejection of the old view of it as applied demonstrable opinion. Technological conduct often rests on institutionalized opinions, not on actors' personal opinions: institutions determine levels of rationality and of social responsibility. Scientific technology depends more on skills than on information; it thus differs from fully articulated knowledge and is differently institutionalized. Scientific technology is an institutional complex of articulated knowledge and skills that depends on social responsibility. The irrationalist view of the primacy of tradition or of action precludes their rational control. Rational control is best attained by democratic legislation aimed at improving the performance level of technology and its contribution to the quality of life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-48
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Technology and Design Education
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1997


  • Action
  • Critical rationalism
  • Irrationalism
  • Rationality
  • Science
  • Scientific technology
  • Skills


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