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.
Niko Kolodny has argued that some (local) rational requirements are narrow-scope requirements. Against this, I argue here that all (local) rational requirements are wide-scope requirements. I present a new objection to the narrow-scope interpretations of the four specific rational requirements which Kolodny considers. His argument for the narrow-scope interpretations of these four requirements rests on a false assumption, that an attitude which puts in place a narrow-scope rational requirement somewhere thereby puts in place a narrow-scope rational requirement everywhere. My argument (...) against Kolodny is analogous to arguments which use holism about reasons to defend moral particularism. (shrink)
Philosophers have often noted a contrast between practical and theoretical reasons when it comes to cases involving equally balanced reasons. When there are strong practical reasons for A-ing, and equally strong practical reasons for some incompatible option, B-ing, the agent is permitted to make an arbitrary choice between them, having sufficient reason to A and sufficient reason to B. But when there is strong evidence for P and equally strong evidence for ~ P, one isn’t permitted to simply believe one (...) or the other. Instead, one must withhold belief, neither believing that P nor believing that ~ P. This paper examines what explains this contrast, focusing in particular on a proposal recently developed by Mark Schroeder across several papers. Schroeder aims to explain the contrast by an appeal to non-evidential, epistemic reasons against belief. But, I argue, it’s not clear exactly what those reasons are, nor how those reasons are to be weighed against evidential reasons. Despite these challenges, I argue that there are grounds for optimism that the contrast can be explained within the broad framework Schroeder provides, and I aim to provide resources to meet the aforementioned challenges. (shrink)
This paper examines some recent arguments for internalism that (i) appeal to an analogy between practical and theoretical reasons, (ii) look toward our practices of reasoning with others, or (iii) tie reasons to good deliberation. The conclusion of this paper is a skeptical one: none of these new arguments gives us sufficient reason to think that internalism is true.
Can a normative reason be understood as a kind of explanation? I here consider and argue against two important analyses of reasons as explanations. John Broome argues that we can analyze reasons in terms of the concepts of explanation and ought. On his view, reasons to ϕ are either facts that explain why one ought to ϕ (what he calls “perfect reasons”) or facts that play a for-ϕ role in weighing explanations (what he calls “pro tanto reasons”). I argue against (...) Broome’s account of both perfect and pro tanto reasons. Other philosophers, including Joseph Raz, analyze reasons in terms of the concepts of explanation and good. On this view, some fact is a reason to ϕ if and only if that fact explains why ϕ-ing would be good in some respect, to some degree. This view avoids the objections to Broome’s view, but should be rejected since not all explanations of why ϕ-ing would be good constitute reasons to ϕ. (shrink)
Instrumental rationality prohibits one from being in the following state: intending to pass a test, not intending to study, and believing one must intend to study if one is to pass. One could escape from this incoherent state in three ways: by intending to study, by not intending to pass, or by giving up one’s instrumental belief. However, not all of these ways of proceeding seem equally rational: giving up one’s instrumental belief seems less rational than giving up an end, (...) which itself seems less rational than intending the means. I consider whether, as some philosophers allege, these “asymmetries” pose a problem for the wide-scope formulation of instrumental rationality. I argue that they do not. I also present an argument in favor of the wide-scope formulation. The arguments employed here in defense of the wide-scope formulation of instrumental rationality can also be employed in defense of the wide-scope formulations of other rational requirements. (shrink)
It is commonly thought that one is irrationally akratic when one believes one ought to F but does not intend to F. However, some philosophers, following Robert Audi, have argued that it is sometimes rational to have this combination of attitudes. I here consider the question of whether rational akrasia is possible. I argue that those arguments for the possibility of rational akrasia advanced by Audi and others do not succeed. Specifically, I argue that cases in which an akratic agent (...) acts as he has most reason to act, and cases in which an akratic agent achieves a kind of global coherence he wouldn’t have achieved had he instead formed intentions in line with his best judgment, do not establish the possibility of rational akrasia. However, I do think that rational akrasia is possible, and I present two arguments for this thesis. The first argument involves a case in which one is incapable of revising one’s belief about what one ought to do, where one also acknowledges this belief to be insufficiently supported by the evidence. The second argument involves a case in which one rationally believes that one ought to have an akratic combination of attitudes. (shrink)
This paper presents an objection to the view that intentions provide reasons and shows how this objection is also inherited by the more commonly accepted Tie-Breaker view, according to which intentions provide reasons only in tie-break situations. The paper also considers and rejects T. M. Scanlon's argument for the Tie-Breaker view and argues that philosophers might be drawn to accept the problematic Tie-Breaker view by confusing it with a very similar, unproblematic view about the relation between intentions and reasons in (...) tie-break situations. (shrink)
According to the Aristotelian Thesis, the conclusion of practical reasoning is an action. Critics argue against it by pointing to cases in which some interference or inability prevents the production of action, yet in which that interference or inability doesn’t impugn the success of an agent’s reasoning. Some of those critics suggest instead that practical reasoning concludes in an intention, while others suggest it concludes in a belief with normative content, such as a belief about what one has conclusive, or (...) sufficient, reason to do. In this paper, I argue that we should allow that practical reasoning could conclude in either an intention or a belief with normative content. I begin by developing an objection to the Aristotelian Thesis, showing how the objection will not also undermine the possibility of practical reasoning concluding in an intention or a belief. I then respond to an argument from Joseph Raz designed to exclude the possibility of intentions as conclusions of practical reasoning. Lastly, I show how the worry that belief isn’t sufficiently “practical” to qualify as a conclusion of practical reasoning is misplaced. (shrink)
This paper considers the formulation of the moral requirement against hypocrisy, paying particular attention to the logical scope of ‘requires’ in that formulation. The paper argues (i) that we should prefer a wide-scope formulation to a narrow-scope formulation, and (ii) this result has some advantages for our normative theorizing about hypocrisy – in particular, it allows us to resist several of Daniela Dover’s (2019) recent arguments against the anti-hypocrisy requirement.
Cognitivists about Practical Rationality argue that we can explain some of the requirements of practical rationality by appealing to the requirements of theoretical rationality. First, they argue that intentions involve beliefs, and, second, they show how the theoretical requirements governing those involved beliefs can explain some of the practical requirements governing those intentions. This paper avoids the ongoing controversy about whether and how intentions involve beliefs and focuses instead on this second part of the Cognitivist approach, where I think Cognitivism (...) faces significant difficulties. I proceed by considering two attempts by Cognitivists to explain requirements of practical rationality and I argue that neither of them succeed. (shrink)
In Rational Powers in Action, Sergio Tenenbaum sets out a new theory of instrumental rationality that departs from standard discussions of means-ends coherence in the literature on structural rationality in at least two interesting ways: it takes intentional action (as opposed to intention) to be what puts in place the relevant instrumental requirements, and it applies to both necessary and non-necessary means. I consider these two developments in more detail. On the first, I argue that Tenenbaum’s theory is too narrow (...) since there could be instrumental irrationality with respect to an intention to X even if one is not yet engaged in any relevant intentional action. On the second, I argue against Tenenbaum’s claim that “an agent is instrumentally irrational if she knowingly fails to pursue some sufficient means to an end she is pursuing.”. (shrink)
Some philosophers have tried to establish a connection between the normativity of instrumental rationality and the paradox presented by Lewis Carroll in his 1895 paper “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles.” I here examine and argue against accounts of this connection presented by Peter Railton and James Dreier before presenting my own account and discussing its implications for instrumentalism (the view that all there is to practical rationality is instrumental rationality). In my view, the potential for a Carroll-style regress just (...) shows us that since instrumental rationality involves a higher-order commitment to combine our willing an end with our taking the necessary means, it therefore cannot, on pain of regress, itself be added as a conjunct to one of the elements to be combined. This view does not support instrumentalism. (shrink)
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 (...) agents with consistent intentions can still fail in their instrumental reasoning. This consideration makes Broome’s approach vulnerable to a line of criticism that both he and Wallace present against Christine Korsgaard’s conception of instrumental rationality. (shrink)
This entry considers the question of whether rationality is normative; that is, the question of whether one always ought (or, more weakly, has a reason) to be rational. It first distinguishes substantive from structural rationality, noting how structural rationality presents a more serious challenge to the thesis that rationality is normative. It then considers the plausibility of skepticism about structural rationality, and notes some problems facing such skepticism. However, if we are not skeptics about structural requirements, we face the task (...) of formulating those requirements. But both narrow-scope and wide-scope formulations seem incompatible with the idea that we always ought to be rational. This suggests that we have good reason to think that rationality is not strongly normative. (shrink)
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.
In his article , Gerald Lang formulates the buck-passing account of value so as to resolve the Wrong Kind of Reason Problem. I argue against his formulation of buck-passing. Specifically, I argue that his formulation of buck-passing is not compatible with consequentialism (whether direct or indirect), and so it should be rejected.
According to the Reasoning View, a normative reason to φ is a premise in a pattern of sound reasoning leading to the conclusion to φ. But how should the Reasoning View account for reasons that are outweighed? One very promising proposal is to appeal to defeasible reasoning. On this proposal, when a reason is outweighed, the associated pattern of sound reasoning is defeated. Both Jonathan Way and Sam Asarnow have recently developed this idea in different ways. I argue that this (...) appeal to defeasible reasoning faces a challenge, since reasons can be both outweighed and disabled. Way's view generates good predictions about outweighed reasons, but not about disabled reasons. Asarnow's view generates good predictions about disabled reasons, but not about outweighed reasons. We want a version of the Reasoning View that can generate good predictions about both. I present a version of the Reasoning View that can meet the challenge. (shrink)
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 (...) is that the account under-generates reasons, since not all cases of incoherence will involve a failure to have a place where one stands. The second objection is that the account over-generates reasons: we would have strong reasons to avoid both incoherence and ambivalence. However, if we follow Frankfurt in thinking that ambivalence is a “disease of the will” that is as irrational as having contradictory beliefs, this second objection doesn’t get off the ground. Thus, the first part of the paper is devoted to explaining why Frankfurt’s argument for the irrationality of ambivalence fails. (shrink)
I consider Antti Kauppinen’s recent proposal for solving the wrong kind of reasons problem for fitting attitude analyses through an appeal to the verdicts of ideal subjects. I present two problems for Kauppinen’s treatment of a foreseen objection, and construct a counterexample to his proposal as it applies to the wrong kind of reasons to admire someone. I then show how to construct similar counterexamples to his proposal as it applies to the wrong kind of reasons for other attitudes, including (...) guilt and shame. (shrink)
Internal rewards are the psychological benefits one receives by performing certain other-regarding actions. Internal rewards include such benefits as the avoidance of guilt, the avoidance of painful memories, and the attainment of warm, fuzzy feelings. Despite the limitations of social psychology, Sober and Wilson believe that evolutionary theory can show that it is more likely for benevolent other-regarding motivational mechanisms to have evolved, thereby supporting the altruist’s claim. Here, I will argue for two related theses. First, if internal reward explanations (...) pose a problem for social psychology, then they also pose a problem for evolutionary theory. Second, there is no need to think that internal reward explanations pose a problem for altruists because these explanations either do not inform us about what our ultimate motives really are or they unreasonably define out of existence the possibility of altruism. (shrink)
This volume is a collection of eleven essays by Mark Schroeder, including one previously unpublished paper, divided into four parts. Schroeder’s substantive introduction to the volume explains the unifying argumentative thread running through these essays and will be useful even to those who have read the essays separately. The essays themselves are superb. Schroeder’s work is unmatched in its clarity, incisiveness, originality, creativity, and depth. And this volume will leave the reader with a new appreciation for various ways in which (...) assumptions about the structure of normative explanations—particularly about what Schroeder calls the Standard Model Theory—are important to central debates in metaethics. When we provide a Standard Model explanation of why someone ought to perform some action, we show how performing that action is a way or means of doing something else he ought to do ð28Þ. Suppose Mark promises to attend the workshop. Here’s a Standard Model explanation of why Mark ought to attend the workshop: attending the workshop is a way of keeping his promise, and he ought to keep his promise. On this explanation, there’s some further action Mark ought to perform ðkeeping his promiseÞ, and attending the workshop is a way of doing that. (shrink)