SOPhiA 2017

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Agency, Instrumental Rationality, and the Hierarchy of Desires
(Action Theory, English)

Recent studies on instrumental rationality (IR) have suggested that IR can be taken to be a basic constituent of agency (Korsgaard 2009; Raz 2005; Smith 2013). Some of our desires, however, can sometimes figure as the interfering factors that undermine the proper functioning of our agency (Frankfurt 1971,1977). So I shall develop from this idea a novel argument against the central Humean doctrine concerning how none of our ends can be rationally criticized under the instrumentalist picture of rationality.
The argument roughly runs as follows. Instrumental irrationality consists in failing to take the means to satisfy one's ends. But sometimes we might fail to take the means to satisfy an end A only because we have another contrary end B which prevents us from taking the means to A. (For instance, I might fail to fulfill my desire to finish my paper in time only because I succumb to, and satisfy, my desire to procrastinate). So in cases of conflict between our ends, some of the contrary ends that we have might figure as the sources of our instrumental irrationality. These desires can therefore be criticized under the instrumentalist picture of rationality.
In fact, if an agent has been taking the means that aims to satisfy a long-term end A, then we would tend to take the long-term end to be the default standpoint for judging instrumental rationality. And we would tend to regard other conflicting short-term ends as the interfering factors that undermine her instrumental rationality. As I shall explain, this common assumption that we make in determining people's instrumental rationality is supported by Davison's principle of charity. Such an assumption, as I shall further contend, implies how there can be a substantive principle for rationally criticizing our ends under IR, namely, our short-term ends can be rationally criticized under IR if they run contrary to our long-term ends.

Chair: Albert Anglberger
Time: 14:35-15:05, 15 September 2017 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.004

Jay Jian 
(University of Oxford, United Kingdom)

I am a second year DPhil student studying philosophy in the University of Oxford. Prior to my DPhil study, I completed my BPhil degree in the University of Oxford and my bachelor degree in National Taiwan University.
My current research, supervised by Prof Terence Irwin and Prof John Gibbons, focuses on the instrumentalist conception of practical rationality and its presuppositions. In my thesis I try to develop a more refined understanding of instrumental rationality that will challenge the traditional Humean picture of rationality and normativity. My research therefore deals with the following topics: the structure of rational agency, the wide and the narrow scope reading of instrumental requirement, full-information accounts of normativity, and the stability of intention. I am also interested in the study on rationality and normativity in general.

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