Do the Standards of Rationality Depend on Resource Context?

Acta Analytica 38 (2):323-333 (2022)
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People sometimes knowingly undermine the achievement of their own goals by, e.g., playing the lottery or borrowing from loan sharks. Are these agents acting irrationally? The standard answer is “yes.” But, in a recent award-winning paper, Jennifer Morton argues “no.” On her view, the norms of practical reasoning an agent ought to follow depend on that agent’s resource context (roughly, how rich or poor they are). If Morton is correct, the orthodox view that the same norms of practical rationality apply to all agents needs revision. I argue that Morton’s arguments fail on empirical and philosophical grounds. What’s at stake? If Morton is correct, poverty relief agencies ought to re-design their incentives so resource-scarce agents can rationally respond to them. If I’m correct, resource-scarce agents do act irrationally in the cases under discussion, and we shouldn’t be shy about saying so. Instead of declaring them rational, we should try to understand the causes of their irrational behavior and help them better succeed by their own lights.

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Author Profiles

Eric Sampson
University of North Texas
Eric Sampson
Purdue University

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References found in this work

Intention, plans, and practical reason.Michael Bratman - 1987 - Cambridge: Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
The sources of normativity.Christine M. Korsgaard - 1996 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Onora O'Neill.
The Sources of Normativity.Christine Korsgaard - 1999 - Philosophical Quarterly 49 (196):384-394.

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