In this essay, I review some results that suggest that rational choice theory has interesting things to say about the virtues. In particular, I argue that rational choice theory can show, first, the role of certain virtues in a game-theoretic analysis of norms. Secondly, that it is useful in the characterization of these virtues. Finally, I discuss how rational choice theory can be brought to bear upon the justification of these virtues by showing how they contribute to a flourishing life. (...) I do this by discussing one particular example of a norm - the requirement that agents to honor their promises of mutual assistance - and one particular virtue, trustworthiness. (shrink)
This volume brings together previously unpublished papers by leading scholars that deal with the theme of practical reasoning and normativity. The volume includes contributions by Michael Bratman, Donald Bruckner, David Enoch, Elijah Millgram, Andrew Reisner, François and Laura Schroeter, Mark Schroeder, and William White.
David Lewis’ Convention has been a major source of inspiration for philosophers and social scientists alike for the analysis of norms. In this essay, I demonstrate its usefulness for the analysis of some moral norms. At the same time, conventionalism with regards to moral norms has attracted sustained criticism. I discuss three major strands of criticism and propose how these can be met. First, I discuss the criticism that Lewis conventions analyze norms in situations with no conflict of interest, whereas (...) most, if not all, moral norms deal with situations with conflicting interests. This criticism can be answered by showing that conventions can emerge in those contexts as well. Secondly, I discuss the objection that this type of conventionalism, inspired by Lewis, presents moral norms as fundamentally contingent, whereas most, if not all, moral norms are not. However, such critics fail to appreciate that conventions are not radically contingent. Moreover, if one distinguishes the question as to why an individual should comply with a norm from the question whether the norm in question itself can be justified, a core element of the complaint of contingency disappears. The third objection to conventionalism concerns the way in which conventionalists justify norms. I argue that reflection upon the way in which according to Lewis norms are justified reveals a fundamental tension in his theory. Possible solutions to this tension all have in common that the complaint of contingency returns in some form. Therefore, this third complaint cannot be avoided altogether. (shrink)
This paper investigates the relation between consequentialism, as conceived of in moral theory, and standard expected utility theory. I argue that there is a close connection between the two. I show furthermore that consequentialism is not neutral with regard to the values of the agent. Consequentialism, as well as standard expected utility theory, is incompatible with the recognition of considerations that depend on what could have been the case, such as regret and disappointment. I conclude that consequentialism should be rejected (...) as a principle of rational choice and that there are reasons to doubt its plausibility in the realm of moral theory. Moreover, this is a reason to doubt whether standard expected utility theory is a plausible theory of rational choice. (shrink)
Abstract: The standard picture of rationality requires that the agent acts so as to realize her most preferred alternative in the light of her own desires and beliefs. However, there are circumstances where such an agent can predict that she will act against her preferences. The story of Ulysses and the Sirens is the paradigmatic example of such cases. In those circumstances the orthodoxy requires the agent to be ‘sophisticated’. That is to say, she should take into account her expected (...) future choices and prevent her future self to act in certain ways. She should ‘bind’ herself to a certain course of action. This is a form of causal commitment. It is generally recognized that this form of self-commitment is the only one that is available to a rational agent. Rational commitment, where the agent gives herself a reason to act in a certain way rather than making herself act in that way, is considered not feasible. In this paper, I question this verdict. I sketch the broad outlines of a model of rational commitment, which takes as its starting point Michael Bratman’s ‘planning theory’ of intention. There are two important objections against this theory (one by John Broome and one by the Dutch philosopher Govert den Hartogh.) Both criticisms claim that such a theory is a form of ‘bootstrapping’ reasons for action into existence. In the remainder of the paper, I will defend the theory against these objections. This way, I hope to establish that defending the feasibility of rational commitment is not an obvious mistake. (shrink)
Instrumental rationality requires that an agent selects those actions that give her the best outcomes. This is the principle of consequentialism. It may be that it is not the only requirement of this form of rationality. Considerations other than the outcomes may enter the picture as well. However, the outcome(s) of an action always play a role in determining its rationality. Seen in this light consequentialism is a minimum requirement of instrumental rationality. Therefore, any theory that tries to spell out (...) the implications of instrumental rationality, in particular expected utility theory, should subscribe to the principle of consequentialism. Or so it seems. (shrink)