The Nature of Rationality

The Nature of Rationality

Robert Nozick
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 242
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  • Book Info
    The Nature of Rationality
    Book Description:

    Repeatedly and successfully, the celebrated Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick has reached out to a broad audience beyond the confines of his discipline, addressing ethical and social problems that matter to every thoughtful person. Here Nozick continues his search for the connections between philosophy and "ordinary" experience. In the lively and accessible style that his readers have come to expect, he offers a bold theory of rationality, the one characteristic deemed to fix humanity's "specialness." What are principles for? asks Nozick. Wecouldact simply on whim, or maximize our self-interest and recommend that others do the same. As Nozick explores rationality of decision and rationality of belief, he shows how principles actually function in our day-to-day thinking and in our efforts to live peacefully and productively with each other.

    Throughout, the book combines daring speculations with detailed investigations to portray the nature and status of rationality and the essential role that imagination plays in this singular human aptitude.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2083-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-2)

    The wordphilosophymeans the love of wisdom, but what philosophers really love is reasoning. They formulate theories and marshal reasons to support them, they consider objections and try to meet these, they construct arguments against other views. Even philosophers who proclaim the limitations of reason—the Greek skeptics, David Hume, doubters of the objectivity of science—all adduce reasons for their views and present difficulties for opposing ones. Proclamations or aphorisms are not considered philosophy unless they also enshrine and delineate reasoning.

    One thing philosophers reason about is reasoning itself. What principles should it obey? What principles must it...

    (pp. 3-40)

    What are principlesfor? Why do we hold principles, why do we put them forth, why do we adhere to them? We could instead simply act on whim or the passion of the moment, or we could maximize our own self-interest and recommend that others do the same. Are principles then a constraint upon whim and self interest, or is adherence to principles a way of advancing self-interest? What functions do principles serve?

    Principles of action group actions, placing them under general rubrics; linked actions are then to be viewed or treated in the same way. This generality can serve...

    (pp. 41-63)

    An elaborate theory of rational decision has been developed by economists and statisticians, and put to widespread use in theoretical and policy studies. This is a powerful, mathematically precise, and tractable theory. Although its adequacy as a description of actual behavior has been widely questioned, it stands as the dominant view of the conditions that a rational decision should satisfy: it is the dominant normative view. I believe this standard decision theory needs to be expanded to incorporate explicitly considerations about the symbolic meaning of actions, along with other factors. A useful entry into the inadequacies of the current standard...

    (pp. 64-106)

    When is a belief rational? Why do we want our beliefs to be rational, how can we tell whether they are, and how can we improve their rationality?

    Two themes permeate the philosophical literature. First, that rationality is a matter of reasons. A belief’s rationality depends upon the reasons for holding that belief. These will be reasons for thinking the belief is true (or perhaps for thinking that it has some other desirable cognitive virtue, such as explanatory power). Second, that rationality is a matter of reliability. Does the process or procedure that produces (and maintains) the belief lead to...

    (pp. 107-132)

    The rationality of a belief or action is a matter of its responsiveness to the reasons for and against, and of the process by which those reasons are generated. Why does rationality involve reasons? Here is one answer: beliefs and actions are to have certain properties (such as truth or satisfying desire), and it is more likely that they will if they are responsive to all the reasons for and against. (Might some other process that does not involve considering or weighing reasons at all be even more reliable in achieving that goal?) Whether or not considering reasons is the...

    (pp. 133-182)

    Enough for what?” counters the instrumentalist, pleased that we seem to grant his view in asking our question. But the issue is whether instrumental rationality is thewholeof rationality.

    The instrumental notion of rationality can be formulated in decision theoretic terms within the framework ofcausaldecision theory, whose notion of (probabilistic) causal connection captures the central notion of instrumental rationality: the means-ends connection. We (and causal decision theory, too) must construe this connection broadly, though, so as to include the relation of an action to broader actions that it specifies and is awayof doing as flying...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 183-218)
    (pp. 219-223)
    (pp. 224-226)