Bioethics Blogs

Rationality and the Scottish referendum

One argument that has been put forward against voting for Scottish independence in the Scottish referendum is that it would be irrational for Scotland to break free of the rest of Great Britain. The grounds for this claim are that the Scottish economy would be significantly worse under independence. This is an empirical claim and for the sake of argument I am going to grant it. What I am interested in is whether, supposing that to be true, it would in fact be irrational. There are a number of things seriously wrong with this inference.

The first thing wrong is that Scotland is not the kind of thing that can be irrational, just as it is not the kind of thing that can be rational either. Perhaps those advancing the claim mean instead that it would not be Scotland but rather the Scottish people that would be irrational. ‘The Scottish people’, however, is ambiguous. If there is such an entity as the Scottish people, it is no more the kind of thing that can be irrational than is Scotland itself. The phrase might mean the people living in Scotland: again, a plurality of people cannot be irrational. What can be irrational are the individual persons who compose that plurality. So to take the claim seriously we must understand it as the claim that each person in Scotland who wishes to live under a Scottish state rather than a British state is irrational because the Scottish economy would be worse.

This argument, therefore, is essentially an application of the economic model of rationality (applied in a particular way—there is a way of understanding that model in terms of revealed preference that might fit with what I am about to say, but that is not how the argument is being made).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.