The Myth of Instrumental Rationality

By Raz, Joseph | Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, April 2005 | Go to article overview

The Myth of Instrumental Rationality


Raz, Joseph, Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy


Recent interest in the nature and presuppositions of instrumental rationality was inspired to a considerable degree by arguments designed to show that it presupposes other forms or kinds of rationality, or (to put it in the nonequivalent way in which the point is more commonly put) that claims that there are reasons to pursue the means to our ends presuppose that the ends themselves are worth pursuing, or that there are adequate reasons for pursuing them. The discussion of instrumental rationality is bound up with discussions of instrumental reasons and of instrumental reasoning that guides deliberation, and which, other things being equal, it is irrational knowingly to flout. The interest in understanding instrumental rationality was thus at least partly a result of an interest in--often hostility to--an ambitious claim, namely that all practical reasons are instrumental, that practical normativity is about the normativity of following the means to our ends.

I say little about this issue. My main aim is to explain the normative character of the phenomena that are commonly discussed when theoretical writers discuss instrumental rationality and instrumental reasons. The discussion will assume that there are forms of practical normativity, of practical reasons, which are not instrumental in nature. The question central to the inquiry is what, if any, normative difference does adopting or having an end make? For example, are there instrumental reasons and, if there are, how do they relate to having ends? Are instrumental reasons distinctive kinds of reasons, whose normativity differs in its underlying rationale from that of, say, moral reasons, or of other kinds of reasons? Similarly, is instrumental rationality a distinct form of rationality?

Reflecting on these questions, we are liable to be torn both ways. On the one hand, we feel that the value of the means derives from the value of the ends. If there are reasons to take the means, they must be none other than the reasons to pursue the ends, or at least they must derive from them. On the other hand, we also feel that failure to take the means to one's ends is a distinct kind of failure, different from the failure to have proper ends, or to value them properly. The first response--that there are no distinctive instrumental reasons--is reinforced by the thought that, say, a would-be murderer cannot create for himself a reason for poisoning his intended victim just by making it his goal to kill him. The second response, however, is reinforced by the thought that a person with evil or worthless ends who fails to take the proper means to his ends is, perhaps luckily, irrational in a way that is indifferent to the character of his ends. He is irrational in the same way as someone whose ends are worthy, but who fails to take the means toward them.

In the first section, I will suggest that (subject to some qualifications) we have (instrumental) reasons to facilitate the realization of anything of value whose realization is not deeply impossible, regardless of whether or not its realization is one of our ends. In section 2, I agree with those who (a) deny that our ends (and intentions) are reasons to take the means for their realization and (b) argue that, nevertheless, our ends affect what is rational for us to do. I do, however, contend that some attempts to square this circle failed, and offer a different solution. Section 3 defends the proposed position by arguing that we do not have reason to avoid contradictions as such. Section 4 complements the earlier discussion by pointing to additional practical implications of ends.

The conclusions of these sections, while following in the footsteps of a number of recent writers on the subject, do deviate from long-established ways of treating the phenomena philosophers discuss under titles such as instrumental reasons, normativity or rationality. Section 5 faces the oddity of my conclusions. It does so by challenging the thought, common to some writers who otherwise vary considerably, that instrumental rationality or instrumental reasons or both are a distinctive type of rationality or of reasons. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Myth of Instrumental Rationality
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.