About this topic
Summary

To be instrumentally rational is, roughly, to take necessary and effective means to one’s end. For instance, if you decide to give up smoking, it would be instrumentally rational to stop buying cigarettes, and to limit the time you spend around other smokers. It would be irrational not to take any means to this end. Instrumental rationality raises several sets of questions, including: (i) what are the principles of instrumental rationality? (ii) what is the normative status of the principles of instrumental rationality? (iii) might instrumental rationality be all of practical rationality?

Key works

Much recent discussion of this topic takes off from Bratman 1987, Broome 1999, and Korsgaard 1997. Kolodny 2005, Raz 2005, and Schroeder 2009 are central contributions to the subsequent debate. A different stream in the literature focuses on decision theory as a theory of instrumental rationality.Gauthier 1986 includes a classic and fairly accessible statement of this idea.

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Related categories

228 found
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1 — 50 / 228
  1. added 2020-05-14
    The Self-Effacing Functionality of Blame.Matthieu Queloz - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-19.
    This paper puts forward an account of blame combining two ideas that are usually set up against each other: that blame performs an important function, and that blame is justified by the moral reasons making people blameworthy rather than by its functionality. The paper argues that blame could not have developed in a purely instrumental form, and that its functionality itself demands that its functionality be effaced in favour of non-instrumental reasons for blame—its functionality is self-effacing. This notion is sharpened (...)
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  2. added 2020-05-09
    Instrumental Rationality: The Normativity of Means-Ends Coherence.John Brunero - 2020 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Rationality requires that we intend the means that we believe are necessary for achieving our ends. Instrumental Rationality explores the formulation and status of this requirement of means-ends coherence. In particular, it is concerned with understanding what means-ends coherence requires of us as believers and agents, and why.
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  3. added 2020-05-09
    The Sunk Cost 'Fallacy' Is Not a Fallacy.Ryan Doody - 2020 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 6:1153-1190.
    Business and Economic textbooks warn against committing the Sunk Cost Fallacy: you, rationally, shouldn't let unrecoverable costs influence your current decisions. In this paper, I argue that this isn't, in general, correct. Sometimes it's perfectly reasonable to wish to carry on with a project because of the resources you've already sunk into it. The reason? Given that we're social creatures, it's not unreasonable to care about wanting to act in such a way so that a plausible story can be told (...)
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  4. added 2020-02-12
    Instrumental Reasoning in Nonhuman Animals.Elisabeth Camp & Eli Shupe - 2017 - In Kristin Andrews & Jake Beck (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Animal Minds. London, UK: pp. 100-118.
  5. added 2020-01-24
    Kant's Critique of Instrumental Reason.Markus Kohl - 2018 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 99 (3):489-516.
    Many commentators hold that in addition to the categorical imperative of morality, Kant also posits an objective law of non-moral practical rationality, 'the' Hypothetical Imperative. On this view, the appeal to the Hypothetical Imperative increases the dialectical options that Kantians have vis-a-vis Humean skepticism about the authority of reason, and it allows for a systematic explanation of the possibility of non-moral weakness of will. I argue that despite its appeal, this interpretation cannot be sustained: for Kant the only objective, universally (...)
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  6. added 2020-01-17
    Ambivalence, Incoherence, and Self-Governance.John Brunero - forthcoming - In Dimitria Gatzia & Berit Brogaard (eds.), The Philosophy and Psychology of Ambivalence: Being of Two Minds. London, UK: Routledge.
    The paper develops two objections to Michael Bratman’s self-governance approach to the normativity of rational requirements. Bratman, drawing upon work by Harry Frankfurt, argues that having a place where one stands is a necessary, constitutive element of self-governance, and that violations of the consistency and coherence requirements on intentions make one lack a place where one stands. This allows for reasons of self-governance to ground reasons to comply with these rational requirements, thereby vindicating the normativity of rationality. The first objection (...)
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  7. added 2020-01-17
    Fittingness and Good Reasoning.John Brunero - 2019 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 16 (2).
    Conor McHugh and Jonathan Way have defended a view of good reasoning according to which good reasoning is explained in terms of the preservation of fittingness. I argue that their Fittingness View is incorrect. Not all fittingness-preserving transitions in thought are instances of good reasoning.
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  8. added 2019-12-29
    Contextuality in Practical Reason. [REVIEW]A. Price - 2009 - Analysis 69 (3):586-587.
    Anthony Price's recent book presents a contextualist approach to practical rationality. Price develops his proposal in four chapters. In the first one, he outlines a contextual account of the validity of practical inferences. This chapter deals with logicism. Logicism assumes that ‘there is a form of rationality within practical thinking that connects with the logical validity of a practical entailment’. Price argues that although the principles of logic are ‘invariant and universal’, their relevance in evaluating a practical inference is constrained (...)
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  9. added 2019-12-02
    Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason.J. David Velleman - 1991 - Philosophical Review 100 (2):277-284.
  10. added 2019-12-02
    Practical Inference.A. J. Kenny - 1966 - Analysis 26 (3):65.
  11. added 2019-11-11
    Improving Practical Reasoning and Argumentation.Michael D. Baumtrog - 2015 - Dissertation, Universidade Nova de Lisboa
    This thesis justifies the need for and develops a new integrated model of practical reasoning and argumentation. After framing the work in terms of what is reasonable rather than what is rational (chapter 1), I apply the model for practical argumentation analysis and evaluation provided by Fairclough and Fairclough (2012) to a paradigm case of unreasonable individual practical argumentation provided by mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik (chapter 2). The application shows that by following the model, Breivik is relatively easily able (...)
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  12. added 2019-11-11
    G.E.M. Anscombe and Rediscovery of Practical Syllogism.Elisa Grimi - 2012 - Acta Philosophica 21 (II):351-362.
    The present paper proposes to analyse the role of the practical syllogism in G.E.M. Anscombe’s theory of action. To this end, I have rst of all chosen to examine, even if in broad terms, the conception of practical syllogism as it is present in the Aristotelian doctrine, and to reveal/delineate some critical points found within it. The following section is the central part of the paper, where, starting from § 33 of Intention, a re ection is carried out on the (...)
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  13. added 2019-09-13
    On Not Getting Out of Bed.Samuel Asarnow - 2019 - Philosophical Studies 176 (6):1639-1666.
    This morning I intended to get out of bed when my alarm went off. Hearing my alarm, I formed the intention to get up now. Yet, for a time, I remained in bed, irrationally lazy. It seems I irrationally failed to execute my intention. Such cases of execution failure pose a challenge for Mentalists about rationality, who believe that facts about rationality supervene on facts about the mind. For, this morning, my mind was in order; it was my action that (...)
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  14. added 2019-09-13
    Rational Choice and the Transitivity of Betterness.Toby Handfield - 2014 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (3):584-604.
    If A is better than B and B is better than C, then A is better than C, right? Larry Temkin and Stuart Rachels say: No! Betterness is nontransitive, they claim. In this paper, I discuss the central type of argument advanced by Temkin and Rachels for this radical idea, and argue that, given this view very likely has sceptical implications for practical reason, we would do well to identify alternative responses. I propose one such response, which employs the idea (...)
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  15. added 2019-09-02
    Anscombe and The Difference Rationality Makes.Eric Marcus - forthcoming - In Adrian Haddock & Rachael Wiseman (eds.), Anscombean Minds. Routledge.
    Anscombe famously argues that to act intentionally is to act under a description, and that “it is the agent's knowledge of what he is doing that gives the descriptions under which what is going on is the execution of an intention.” Further, she takes ‘knows’ to mean that the agent can give these descriptions herself. It would seem to follow that animals cannot act intentionally. However, she denies this, insisting that although animals cannot express intentions, they can have them. But (...)
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  16. added 2019-06-06
    La postmodernidad según Platón.José Antonio González Soriano - 2007 - Logos. Anales Del Seminario de Metafísica [Universidad Complutense de Madrid, España] 40 (2):361-368.
    The synthesis of the Critical Theory’s called essentials shapes shows the remaining and relevance of the Enlightment Dialectic’s notion. With this we can notice the relation between productive rationalization and social relations’ instrumental deformation, as constitutive character of modern culture. At time, the dialectic nature of Enlightment’s categories propitiates a melting of critical theorizations engaged with reformulated Enlightments’s ideals. This dialectic establishes some epistemologic conditions for the restoration of Critical Theory’s posibilities conditions. Around these, we feel necessary a sistematic connection (...)
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  17. added 2019-06-06
    Un fantasma recorre la dialéctica de la ilustración.José Antonio González Soriano - 2003 - Logos. Anales Del Seminario de Metafísica [Universidad Complutense de Madrid, España] 36 (2):261-268.
    The synthesis of the Critical Theory’s called essentials shapes shows the remaining and relevance of the Enlightment Dialectic’s notion. With this we can notice the relation between productive rationalization and social relations’ instrumental deformation, as constitutive character of modern culture. At time, the dialectic nature of Enlightment’s categories propitiates a melting of critical theorizations engaged with reformulated Enlightments’s ideals. This dialectic establishes some epistemologic conditions for the restoration of Critical Theory’s posibilities conditions. Around these, we feel necessary a sistematic connection (...)
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  18. added 2019-06-06
    Medieval Instrumental Dances.Timothy J. McGee.Julie E. Cumming - 1992 - Speculum 67 (1):188-189.
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  19. added 2019-06-06
    Habermas: Sobre una reflexión metodológica de la Teoría Crítica.Yolanda Ruano de la Fuente - 1989 - Logos. Anales Del Seminario de Metafísica [Universidad Complutense de Madrid, España] 23:227.
    The purpose of this article is to explore the concept of Philosophy within the works written by Wittgenstein if we take into account the ambivalent sense of the term phármakon. Thus, it will be outlined a contest of paradoxes between, on the one hand, healthiness, sanity, and the adaptable confidence produced by western rationality materialized into objective science, and, on the other hand, sickness, insanity, the world of perplexities, and the realm of desire and death, essential to philosophical thought. Bearing (...)
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  20. added 2019-06-05
    Prudence and Person-Stages.Kristie Miller - 2015 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 58 (5):460-476.
    Persons care about their future selves. They reason about their future selves’ interests; they plan for their future selves’ happiness and they worry about their future selves’ suffering. This paper is interested in the interplay between diachronic prudential reason and certain accounts of the metaphysics of personal identity that fall under the broad umbrella ‘conventionalist’. Some conventionalists conclude that under certain conditions there are intractable decisions for there is no fact of the matter regarding whether a person-stage ought (prudentially) to (...)
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  21. added 2019-06-05
    Popper, Rationality and the Possibility of Social Science.Danny Frederick - 2013 - Theoria : An International Journal for Theory, History and Fundations of Science 28 (1):61-75.
    Social science employs teleological explanations which depend upon the rationality principle, according to which people exhibit instrumental rationality. Popper points out that people also exhibit critical rationality, the tendency to stand back from, and to question or criticise, their views. I explain how our critical rationality impugns the explanatory value of the rationality principle and thereby threatens the very possibility of social science. I discuss the relationship between instrumental and critical rationality and show how we can reconcile our critical rationality (...)
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  22. added 2019-06-05
    Satisficing and Maximizing: Moral Theorists on Practical Reason.Michael Byron (ed.) - 2004 - New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.
    How do we think about what we plan to do? One dominant answer is that we select the best possible option available. However, a growing number of philosophers would offer a different answer: since we are not equipped to maximize we often choose the next best alternative, one that is no more than satisfactory. This strategy choice is called satisficing. This collection of essays explores both these accounts of practical reason, examining the consequences for adopting one or the other for (...)
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  23. added 2019-05-22
    Ends and Persons: A Transcendental Argument.David DeMatteo - forthcoming - Episteme: An Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy.
    This paper makes a transcendental argument. It assumes the normative validity of the instrumental principle, and then investigates the conditions of its validity. Ultimately, it argues that there are three necessary conditions for its validity. Firstly, agents must be rationally capable of regarding themselves as having a single self that possesses the same reasons, ends, and means. Secondly, agents must be rationally capable of distinguishing themselves from other selves that possess ends. Thirdly, these two conditions must actually obtain, which means (...)
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  24. added 2019-05-21
    Instrumental Reasons for Belief: Elliptical Talk and Elusive Properties.Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen & Mattias Skipper - forthcoming - In Sebastian Schmidt & Gerhard Ernst (eds.), The Ethics of Belief and Beyond. Understanding Mental Normativity. Routledge.
    Epistemic instrumentalists think that epistemic normativity is just a special kind of instrumental normativity. According to them, you have epistemic reason to believe a proposition insofar as doing so is conducive to certain epistemic goals or aims—say, to believe what is true and avoid believing what is false. Perhaps the most prominent challenge for instrumentalists in recent years has been to explain, or explain away, why one’s epistemic reasons often do not seem to depend on one’s aims. This challenge can (...)
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  25. added 2019-05-07
    If There Are No Diachronic Norms of Rationality, Why Does It Seem Like There Are?Ryan Doody - 2019 - Res Philosophica 96 (2):141-173.
    I offer an explanation for why certain sequences of decisions strike us as irrational while others do not. I argue that we have a standing desire to tell flattering yet plausible narratives about ourselves, and that cases of diachronic behavior that strike us as irrational are those in which you had the opportunity to hide something unflattering and failed to do so.
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  26. added 2019-05-02
    Rationality, Virtue and Higher‐Order Coherence.Jens Gillessen - 2018 - Dialectica 72 (3):411-436.
    Since it is hard to see how subjective rationality could be normative, a humbler, purely evaluative account of rationality’s importance has been suggested: rationality is a non-moral virtue, and rational action is good so far as it reveals that an agent ‘functions well’. This paper argues, however, that even this fallback position is threatened by ‘eccentric billionaire’ scenarios: sometimes, flouting purported coherence standards of rationality is maximally virtuous. In defense of the virtue account, I argue that a novel view of (...)
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  27. added 2019-05-01
    An Instrumentalist Account of How to Weigh Epistemic and Practical Reasons for Belief.Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen & Mattias Skipper - forthcoming - Mind:fzz062.
    When one has both epistemic and practical reasons for or against some belief, how do these reasons combine into an all-things-considered reason for or against that belief? The question might seem to presuppose the existence of practical reasons for belief. But we can rid the question of this presupposition. Once we do, a highly general ‘Combinatorial Problem’ emerges. The problem has been thought to be intractable due to certain differences in the combinatorial properties of epistemic and practical reasons. Here we (...)
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  28. added 2019-01-29
    Review of Practical Shape: A Theory of Practical Reasoning, by Jonathan Dancy. [REVIEW]Jonathan Way - forthcoming - Ethics.
  29. added 2019-01-01
    Subjectivism, Instrumentalism, and Prudentialism About Reasons: On the Normativity of Instrumental Transmission.Arash Abizadeh - 2019 - European Journal of Philosophy 27 (2):387-402.
    According to a subjectivist theory, normative reasons are grounded in facts about our desires. According to an instrumentalist theory, reasons are grounded also in facts about the relevant means to desired objects. These are distinct theories. The widespread tendency to conflate the normativity of subjective and instrumentalist precepts obscures two facts. First, instrumentalist precepts incorporate a subjective element with an objective one. Second, combining these elements into a single theory of normative reasons requires explaining how and why they are to (...)
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  30. added 2018-09-18
    Cognitivism About Practical Rationality.John Brunero - 2014 - Oxford Studies in Metaethics 9:18-44.
  31. added 2018-09-14
    What is Good Reasoning?Conor McHugh & Jonathan Way - 2018 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research:153-174.
    What makes the difference between good and bad reasoning? In this paper we defend a novel account of good reasoning—both theoretical and practical—according to which it preserves fittingness or correctness: good reasoning is reasoning which is such as to take you from fitting attitudes to further fitting attitudes, other things equal. This account, we argue, is preferable to two others that feature in the recent literature. The first, which has been made prominent by John Broome, holds that the standards of (...)
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  32. added 2018-08-01
    Practical Reason, Sympathy and Reactive Attitudes.Max Khan Hayward - 2017 - Noûs:51-75.
    This paper has three aims. First, I defend, in its most radical form, Hume's scepticism about practical reason, as it applies to purely self-regarding matters. It's not always irrational to discount the future, to be inconstant in one's preferences, to have incompatible desires, to not pursue the means to one's ends, or to fail to maximize one's own good. Second, I explain how our response to the “irrational” agent should be understood as an expression of frustrated sympathy, in Adam Smith's (...)
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  33. added 2018-06-05
    Do Hypothetical Imperatives Require Categorical Imperatives?Jeremy Schwartz - 2010 - European Journal of Philosophy 18 (1):84-107.
    : Recently, the idea that every hypothetical imperative must somehow be ‘backed up’ by a prior categorical imperative has gained a certain influence among Kant interpreters and ethicists influenced by Kant. Since instrumentalism is the position that holds that hypothetical imperatives can by themselves and without the aid of categorical imperatives explain all valid forms of practical reasoning, the influential idea amounts to a rejection of instrumentalism as internally incoherent. This paper argues against this prevailing view both as an interpretation (...)
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  34. added 2018-05-25
    Willing the End Means Willing the Means: An Overlooked Reading of Kant.Wooram Lee - 2018 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 5.
    In his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant famously claims that it is analytic that whoever wills the end also wills the indispensably necessary means to it that is within his control. The orthodox consensus has it that the analytic proposition expresses a normative principle of practical reason. In this paper, I argue that this consensus is mistaken. On my resolute reading of Kant, he is making a descriptive point about what it is to will an end, and not (...)
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  35. added 2018-05-11
    Trying Cognitivism: A Defence of the Strong Belief Thesis.Avery Archer - 2018 - Theoria 84 (2):140-156.
    According to the Strong Belief Thesis (SBT), intending to X entails the belief that one will X. John Brunero has attempted to impugn SBT by arguing that there are cases in which an agent intends to X but is unsure that she will X. Moreover, he claims that the standard reply to such putative counterexamples to SBT – namely, to claim that the unsure agent merely has an intention to try – comes at a high price. Specifically, it prevents SBT (...)
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  36. added 2018-03-28
    On What Is in Front of Your Nose.Anton Ford - 2016 - Philosophical Topics 44 (1):141-161.
    The conclusion of practical reasoning is commonly said to rest upon a diverse pair of representations—a “major” and a “minor” premise—the first of which concerns the end and the second, the means. Modern and contemporary philosophers writing on action and practical reasoning tend to portray the minor premise as a “means-end belief”—a belief about, as Michael Smith puts it, “the ways in which one thing leads to another,” or, as John McDowell puts it, “what can be relied on to bring (...)
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  37. added 2018-02-16
    Instrumental Desires, Instrumental Rationality.Michael Smith - 2004 - Supplement to the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 78 (1):93-109.
    The requirements of instrumental rationality are often thought to be normative conditions on choice or intention, but this is a mistake. Instrumental rationality is best understood as a requirement of coherence on an agent's non-instrumental desires and means-end beliefs. Since only a subset of an agent's means-end beliefs concern possible actions, the connection with intention is thus more oblique. This requirement of coherence can be satisfied either locally or more globally, it may be only one among a number of such (...)
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  38. added 2018-01-24
    Review of Elijah Milgram Practical Induction. [REVIEW]Sarah Buss - 1999 - Philosophical Review 108 (4):571.
    I wish more books of philosophy were like this one. It is elegantly written. It is filled with provocative claims and ingenious arguments. It is a really good read, even while it forces us to rethink many of our assumptions about practical reason and practical reasoning, morality and agency.
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  39. added 2017-12-28
    Review: John Broome, Rationality Through Reasoning. [REVIEW]Review by: Aaron Bronfman - 2015 - Ethics 125 (4):1194-1199,.
  40. added 2017-12-27
    Review: Mark Schroeder, Explaining the Reasons We Share: Explanation and Expression in Ethics. [REVIEW]John Brunero - 2015 - Ethics 126 (1):238-244.
  41. added 2017-12-27
    Broome, John. Rationality Through Reasoning.Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Pp. 322. $99.95.Aaron Bronfman - 2015 - Ethics 125 (4):1194-1199.
  42. added 2017-12-27
    Review: John Broome, Rationality Through Reasoning. [REVIEW]Aaron Bronfman - 2015 - Ethics 125 (4):1194-1199.
  43. added 2017-12-27
    Review: Mark Schroeder, Explaining the Reasons We Share: Explanation and Expression in Ethics. [REVIEW]Review by: John Brunero - 2015 - Ethics 126 (1):238-244.
  44. added 2017-12-27
    Two Approaches to Instrumental Rationality and Belief Consistency.John Brunero - 2005 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 1 (1):1-20.
    R. Jay Wallace argues that the normativity of instrumental rationality can be traced to the independent rational requirement to hold consistent beliefs. I present three objections to this view. John Broome argues that there is a structural similarity between the rational requirements of instrumental rationality and belief consistency. Since he does not reduce the former to the latter, his view can avoid the objections to Wallace’s view. However, we should not think Broome’s account explains the whole of instrumental rationality since (...)
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  45. added 2017-12-06
    The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination.Chrisoula Andreou & Mark D. White (eds.) - 2010 - Oxford University Press.
    When we fail to achieve our goals, procrastination is often the culprit. But how exactly is procrastination to be understood? This edited volume integrates the problem of procrastination into philosophical inquiry, exploring the relationship of procrastination to agency, rationality, and ethics--topics that philosophy is well-suited to address.
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  46. added 2017-11-30
    Temptation Revisited.Michael Bratman - 2007 - In Bruno Verbeek (ed.), Reasons and Intentions. Ashgate.
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  47. added 2017-11-24
    Review of Kirk Ludwig, From Individual to Plural Agency, Collective Action: Volume 1. [REVIEW]Olle Blomberg - 2018 - Philosophical Quarterly 68 (272):626-628.
  48. added 2017-11-07
    A New Theory of Humean Reasons? A Critical Note on Schroeder's Hypotheticalism.Matthew Bedke - 2007 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy (3):1-5.
  49. added 2017-11-03
    A Paradox for Supertask Decision Makers.Andrew Bacon - 2011 - Philosophical Studies 153 (2):307.
    I consider two puzzles in which an agent undergoes a sequence of decision problems. In both cases it is possible to respond rationally to any given problem yet it is impossible to respond rationally to every problem in the sequence, even though the choices are independent. In particular, although it might be a requirement of rationality that one must respond in a certain way at each point in the sequence, it seems it cannot be a requirement to respond as such (...)
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  50. added 2017-10-31
    What Kind of Theory is the Humean Theory of Motivation?Caroline T. Arruda - 2017 - Ratio 30 (3):322-342.
    I consider an underappreciated problem for proponents of the Humean theory of motivation. Namely, it is unclear whether is it to be understood as a largely psychological or largely metaphysical theory. I show that the psychological interpretation of HTM will need to be modified in order to be a tenable view and, as it will turn out, the modifications required render it virtually philosophically empty. I then argue that the largely metaphysical interpretation is the only a plausible interpretation of HTM's (...)
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1 — 50 / 228