Instrumental rationality

Oxford Studies in Metaethics 6:280-309 (2011)
Is there any distinctive aspect of rationality that deserves the label of “instrumental rationality”? Recently, Joseph Raz (2005) has argued that instrumental rationality is a “myth”. In this essay, I shall give some qualified support to Raz’s position: as I shall argue, many philosophers have indeed been seduced by certain myths about instrumental rationality. Nonetheless, Raz’s conclusion is too strong. Instrumental rationality is not itself a myth: there really is a distinctive aspect of rationality that deserves the label of “instrumental rationality”. In the first two sections of this essay, I shall start by giving a rough intuitive description of the phenomenon that seems to me the best candidate for the label “instrumental rationality”. As we shall see, this rough description gives us reason to reject some of the myths that surround instrumental rationality. Then in the rest of this essay, I shall try to give a more precise general specification of this phenomenon. In Sections 3 and 4, I shall consider what has been said about instrumental rationality by several other philosophers. Identifying what is missing in these other philosophers’ accounts will help me to develop my own positive specification, which I shall present in Sections 5 and 6.
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