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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Toxic dispositions in strategic rational choice Crossley, Kenneth Ray


David Gauthier argues that in order to be rational, agents must accept voluntary constraints on strategic behaviour. These constraints define an agent's strategic disposition. Taking Gregory Kavka's toxin puzzle as a foil, Section One demonstrates how strategic dispositions face two challenges posed by standard accounts of rational choice: (1) since they potentially rationalize particular acts which are not immediately utility-maximizing at the time those acts are undertaken, 'rationally irrational' internal constraints are incoherent; and (2) a rational agent might not be able to adopt the required constraints. Against the first objection, Section Two exploits the contention of standard rational choice theory that the rationality of actions is best evaluated instrumentally. Natural mechanisms of agency are therefore relevant filters on an agent's rationally-feasible options. Moreover, rational agency can be well interpreted with a naturalistic model of intentional action. Intentional agents are capable of planning. A particular act undertaken to further a broader plan will then be a rational act if the plan is a utility-maximizing plan. A structure of rational plans thus informs a coherent account of strategic dispositions. Section Three notes that agents could still be unable to adopt Gauthier's internal constraints if they entertained conflicting intertemporal preferences. However when overall-utility maximization is demonstrably more rational than discrete-utility maximization, internal conflicts can be resolved. The requisite priority of overall-utility maximization is established with a pragmatic conception of normative justification. Accounts of rational choice, given their basis in primitive fact, therefore ought to endorse Gauthier's internal constraints on strategic choice.

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