Weakness of Will and Practical Irrationality

By Sarah Stroud; Christine Tappolet | Go to book overview

10 Practical Irrationality and the Structure of Decision Theory

There is a clear sense in which an individual can be said to act rationally, despite being in some respects misinformed or misguided. We may grant that it was rational for Pierre to bring his umbrella to work, given that he thought it was going to rain, even though the weather forecast lent no credence to this view. Similarly, we can say that it was rational for Pierre to go to work, given that he wants a promotion, even though we may consider this ambition ill-considered. Thus any theory of practical rationality, or irrationality, imposes a division of labour between, on the one hand, an account of the agent's intentional states and how these are formed, and on the other hand, an account of how these intentional states get applied in particular circumstances in order to recommend a particular course of action.

Standard decision theory imposes such a division of labour by treating beliefs as subjective probabilities, and desires as subjective preferences. Both are then taken to be determined exogenously. 1 The theory of practical rationality deals only with how intentional states of these two types get hooked together at the point of decision. Thus the theory implicitly distinguishes between epistemic rationality, which governs the production of beliefs, volitional rationality, which governs the production of desires, and then practical rationality strictly construed. 2 It is the latter part of the theory

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