UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rational and irrational agency Campbell, Peter G.


Only with a comprehensive detailed theory of the practical processes which agents engage in prior to successful action can one get a picture of all those junctures at which the mechanism of rationality may be applied, and at which irrationality may therefore occur. Rationality, I argue, is the exercise of normatives, such as believable and desirable, whose function is to control the formation of the stages in practical processes by determining what content and which functions of practical states are allowed into the process. Believable is a functional concept, and for an agent to wield it requires that he possess beliefs or a theory he can justify about which states are goal-functional. Desirable is likewise a functional concept, and its exercise requires that agents possess justifiable beliefs or a theory about which goals are to be functional. When the desirability belief functions, it does so according to ideals of the theory. For example, it functions saliently where desires become intentions. So long as the normatives function in these ways the agent is rational. To so function is to satisfy the ideal for agency itself. Chapter 2 presents a fine-grained model of the fundamental terms and relations necessary for practical reasoning and agency. In this model, the functions of belief, desire and intention are described in naturalized terms. On the basis of this account of the terms of agency, a taxonomy of the possible failures of rationally controlled practicality is presented in chapter 3. Chapter 4 presents a comprehensive and detailed account of intention formation comprised of the functions of belief, desire and intention. Wherever one of those functions occurs in the process is a juncture at which rationality may be exercised, and therefore a point at which irrationality may occur. In chapter 5 I describe some of the main ways that dysfunctional states may disrupt agency, creating irrationality. The measures agents may take to ameliorate or otherwise control such failures are discussed and distinguished according to the ideal of agency. Finally, and in these terms, I address the problem of akrasia, in particular the views of Davidson and Mele, and show that the room they make for strict akratic action involves a significant compromise of the ideals of agency, and therefore is not as "strict" as they and others have claimed.

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