Is there a difference between rationality and instrumentality?

I heard somewhere, that instrumentality asks, how we should attain our goals, while rationality asks, why we should attain them. But, if we have a goal, say, going home as fast as possible, then the fastest path would also be the most rational decision. Is every rational agent also instrumentally thinking?


Here is a relevant link and quote contrasting instrumental reason with substantial reason. As you say, practical efficiency can be simply instrumental. The moral qualities of reasoning require a higher order.

Max Horkheimer’s Critique of Instrumental Reason and the Domination of Nature

The capitalist system can be seen to have a directly proportionate relationship with instrumental reason. Horkheimer goes beyond this comparison to suggest that the gradual reification – the mastery of nature – has its end in Fascism, however liberal democracy and capitalism were very much the target of the Frankfurt School. The capitalist agent looks to commodify the world toward his/her own ends, primarily the individualistic pursuit of self-preservation. Instrumental reason is the greatest tool in this process. In any case, substantial reason, which guides moral judgements and values, a veritable looking glass into reality and the truth of the world, has in today’s capitalist society become obsolete.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.