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Sergio Tenenbaum (Toronto): “Action-First Instrumental Rationality and Risk”

12 February, 4:30 pm6:00 pm

Abstract: In Rational Powers in Action (Oxford, forthcoming), I defend what might be called an “action-first” conception of instrumental rationality; that is, a conception of instrumental rationality that takes intentional action as the fundamental category of the theory of instrumental rationality. In this talk, I will first explain more precisely the commitments of an action-first model as
well as the central tenets of the specific version of the model I defend. I then outline the main attractions and advantages of such a view, especially with regards of how it can deal with the extended nature of agency. However, the model seems to face a major obstacle. The central principles of the model seem to have no application for risky contexts: its two central principles (a means-end principle of derivation and a coherence principle that requires the agent not to pursue incompatible ends) presuppose a context of knowledge for their proper application. I try to show, however, that there are promising ways to extend this model to contexts of risk and uncertainty, and that the model can both incorporate the insights of decision theory in some of these contexts, as well as providing plausible accounts of ordinary choice dispositions that are puzzling from the point of view of orthodox decision theory.


Sergio Tenenbaum is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. His research interests include ethics, Kant, and moral philosophy.


12 February
4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
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LAK 2.06
Lakatos Building
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