By In Action Theory (Philosophy of Action), Ideas, Metaethics, Practical Rationality, Practical reasons, Reasons and rationality, Value Theory Comments (4)

Decisive Reasons and Rational Supererogation

I have a roughly formulated and half-baked inquiry:

Suppose that rationality endorses maximizing utility, but there is room for rational supererogation, and so it is sometimes rationally permissible to drink a coffee even if doing so does not maximize utility.

Would you say that there is no decisive reason against drinking the coffee because, although drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, it is still rationally permissible?  Or would you say that, because drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, there is decisive reason against drinking the coffee even though drinking it is rationally permissible?

I am attracted to a usage of decisive reason according to which the consideration that C pinpoints a decisive reason against A’s X-ing if and only if, because C, A should not X.  Given this usage, there is no decisive reason against drinking the coffee (from the point of view of rationality) because, although drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, drinking the coffee is still rationally permissible and so it is not true that one should not drink the coffee.  I wonder if folks would balk at this implication and see usages with this implication as thereby counter-intuitive.

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By In Uncategorized Comments Off on Belief, Action, and Rationality over Time

Belief, Action, and Rationality over Time

University of Wisconsin-Madison, September 5-7

The goal of this conference is to get action theorists and epistemologists (especially formal epistemologists) together to think about topics related to diachronic rationality and belief.  All are welcome, but attendees are expected to have read the papers beforehand.  Presenters, commentators, and organizers are listed here.  Register for free here.

Funded by the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, the University of Wisconsin, and a gift from Rodney J. Blackman. 


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By In Discussions, Metaethics, Moral Psychology, Normative Ethics, Practical Rationality, Value Theory Comments (2)


Consider the question “Can regret be appropriate even apart from any belief that one’s choice was misguided or irrational if a monistic theory of the good is true?”  According to the relevant notion of regret, regretting is to be understood, roughly, as mourning the loss of a forgone good.  This notion of regret leaves room for the possibility that there may be cases of rational regret that do not involve the agent seeing her prior choice as in some way misguided.  It is commonly held that this can easily occur when there is a plurality of distinct kinds of goods at stake.  More controversial is the suggestion (which can be found in Hurka’s work) that this can also easily occur when there is only one distinct kind of good at stake.  According to Hurka (“Monism, Pluralism, and Rational Regret”), goods with different “intrinsic properties” can be distinct “in the way that matters for rational regret” without being goods of distinct kinds, and so monistic theories of the good can accommodate “rational regret” as well as pluralistic theories.  But it might be, and indeed has been, argued (by, in particular, Stocker (Plural and Conflicting Values)) that, insofar as different intrinsic properties can be distinct in the way that matters for rational regret, we can think of the different properties as tied to different values, and so we do not have a case of rational ‘monistic’ regret.  And here we seem to reach a stalemate grounded in what seems to be something like a terminological issue, namely whether to count a theory of the good that takes say, pleasure, as the only good as monistic, if it also allows for distinct kinds of pleasure that make room for rational regret.  I am trying to develop a position that gets beyond this stalemate, but am now wondering whether my characterization of stalemate seems fair or if there is a better interpretation of the dynamic of the debate that makes the dispute seem more substantial.  


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By In Practical Rationality Comments (15)

The Self-Torturer and Instrumental Rationality

Warren Quinn’s puzzle of the self-torturer is supposed to show that cyclic preferences can be rational, and that, in cases where they are, rationality can require resoluteness so that the agent does not end up with an alternative that is worse than the one with which s/he started. 

As Quinn makes explicit, his concern is with instrumental rationality.  It is thus natural to interpret Quinn’s use of “worse” as “worse, relative to the agent’s preferences.”  But how is “X is worse than Y, relative to the agent’s preferences” to be understood when X and Y are part of a preference cycle?


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