Are Terrorists Rational?

Terrorists sometimes blow themselves up. Does that make them irrational?

Takeaway Points

  1. In ordinary language, rational and sensible are synonyms.
  2. In modeling terms, an actor is rational if his preferences are complete and transitive.
  3. A complete preference means that for any two alternatives A and B, the actor prefers A to B, prefers B to A, or is indifferent. There is no “decline to state” option.
  4. A transitive preference means that for any three alternatives A, B, and C, if the actor prefers A to B and prefers B to C, then he must also prefer A to C. Preference cycles are not allowed.
  5. Rational preferences therefore may not be sensible. But we can model them all the same.