The Toxin and the Tyrant: Two Tests for Gauthier's Theory of Rationality

Hume famously said that “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.”2 Let us assume, with Hume, that reason does not, because it cannot, tell a person which ends to pursue. In other words, let us assume that although reason can apprise a person of the availability of various ends and of the costs and benefits likely to attend the pursuit of those ends,3 it cannot judge the desirability of those ends themselves. Assuming all this—assuming, in short, a purely instrumental view of rationality—it is natural to think that at least the following (if only this) can be said on reason’s behalf: the more rational a person’s choice of conduct is, the more will it further her ends, whatever they may be. And from this it is natural to infer that what is fully rational is for a person to choose whatever conduct will further her ends the most. This conception of rationality—the idea that it’s rational for a person to choose whatever conduct will further her ends the most—is as simple as it sounds, and I think it’s no exaggeration to say that it enjoys the status of orthodoxy among rational-choice theorists, game theorists, and other people who traffic in such things. But like any orthodoxy, this one has its heretics, and one of these is David Gauthier. As an alternative to..
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