Davidson, Irrationality and Ethics

Philosophy Today 45 (3):242-253 (2001)
Abstract
In this paper I outline Donald Davidson’s account of two forms of irrationality, akrasia and self-deception, and relate this account to ethical action and belief. His view of irrationality is generally a Freudian one, to the effect that agents must compartmentalize both offending particular mental contents, and governing second order principles. Davidson also hints that his account of akrasia and self-deception might show certain normative and meta-ethical theories to be irrational, insofar as they too engender irrationality. I explore these hints, and hopefully show both that Davidson is correct about irrationality and correct that certain ethical theories (e.g. Kantian deontology and certain forms of moral realism) engender irrationality as well. I believe this to be no great loss to ethics generally, but will hopefully aid our understanding of how ethical action and belief actually happen.
Keywords Donald Davidson  Irrationality  Normative Ethics
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