On three alleged theories of rational behavior

Utilitas 21 (4):506-520 (2009)
Abstract
What behavior is rational? It’s rational to act ethically, some think. Others endorse instrumentalism — it is rational to pursue one’s goals. Still others say that acting rationally always involves promoting one’s self-interest. Many philosophers have given each of these answers. But these answers don’t really conflict; they aren’t vying to describe some shared concept or to solve some mutually acknowledged problem. In so far as this is debated, it is a pseudo-debate. The different uses of ‘rational action’ differ merely in meaning. I shall defend the following claims: ‘rational behavior’ is used in ethical, prudential, and instrumental ways (section 1); these uses of ‘rational behavior’ are distinct (section 2); they do not represent competing theories of rational behavior (section 3); we should stop using ‘rational behavior’ ethically and prudentially, but we may continue its instrumental use (section 4).
Keywords Rationality  Rational action  Derek Parfit  Allan Gibbard  Rational choice theory  Rational behavior  Pseudo-debate
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