Rationality in Action

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MIT Press, Jan 24, 2003 - Philosophy - 319 pages
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The study of rationality and practical reason, or rationality in action, has been central to Western intellectual culture. In this invigorating book, John Searle lays out six claims of what he calls the Classical Model of rationality and shows why they are false. He then presents an alternative theory of the role of rationality in thought and action.

A central point of Searle's theory is that only irrational actions are directly caused by beliefs and desires—for example, the actions of a person in the grip of an obsession or addiction. In most cases of rational action, there is a gap between the motivating desire and the actual decision making. The traditional name for this gap is "freedom of the will." According to Searle, all rational activity presupposes free will. For rationality is possible only where one has a choice among various rational as well as irrational options.

Unlike many philosophical tracts, Rationality in Action invites the reader to apply the author's ideas to everyday life. Searle shows, for example, that contrary to the traditional philosophical view, weakness of will is very common. He also points out the absurdity of the claim that rational decision making always starts from a consistent set of desires. Rational decision making, he argues, is often about choosing between conflicting reasons for action. In fact, humans are distinguished by their ability to be rationally motivated by desire-independent reasons for action. Extending his theory of rationality to the self, Searle shows how rational deliberation presupposes an irreducible notion of the self. He also reveals the idea of free will to be essentially a thesis of how the brain works.


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Page 28 - reason, to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my little finger." The way to assess any such claim is always to bring it down to
Page 5 - Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions," and in Kant's claim that "He who wills the end wills the means." The tradition receives its most sophisticated formulation in contemporary mathematical
Page 11 - made by many recent authors. For example, Herbert Simon writes, "Reason is wholly instrumental. It cannot tell us where to go; at best it can tell us how to get there. It is a gun for hire that can be employed in the service of any goals that we have, good or bad.
Page 11 - Bertrand Russell is even more succinct: "Reason has a perfectly clear and concise meaning. It signifies the choice of the right means to an end that you wish to achieve. It has nothing whatever to do with the choice of ends.
Page 221 - (PI) If an agent wants to do x more than he wants to do y and he believes himself free to do either x or y, then he will intentionally do x if he does either x or y intentionally.
Page 190 - being, it is admittedly necessary that reason should have a power of infusing a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction in the fulfilment of duty, and consequently that it should possess a kind of causality by which it can determine sensibility in accordance with rational principles
Page 222 - ought to do X' as a value-judgement or not is, 'Does he or does he not recognise that if he assents to the judgement, he must also assent to the command "Let me do X"?'
Page 91 - Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person," Journal of Philosophy, January 1971,
Page 228 - If r is someone's reason for holding that p, then his holding that r must be, I think, a cause of his holding that p. But, and this is what is crucial here, his holding that r may cause his holding that p without r being his reason; indeed, the agent may even think that r is a reason to reject p.
Page 11 - the set of primary desires is consistent. A typical expression of this view is given by Jon Elster: "Beliefs and desires can hardly be reasons for action unless they are consistent. They must not involve logical, conceptual, or pragmatic contradictions.

References to this book

Free Will and Luck
Alfred R. Mele
Limited preview - 2006
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About the author (2003)

John R. Searle is Mills Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language at the University of California, Berkeley.

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