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Rationality, instrumental

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L148-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2012
Retrieved May 07, 2021, from

Article Summary

We are instrumentally rational when we take necessary and effective means to our ends, and instrumentally irrational when we fail to do so. For instance, if you decide to give up smoking, it would be rational to stop buying cigarettes, and to limit the time you spend around other smokers. It would be irrational not to take any means to this end.

It is not clear how to formulate the principles of instrumental rationality. It is natural to think that if you have an end, you ought to take the means to that end. But if it would be wicked or crazy to take the means to one of your ends, then you ought not to take this means. In recent years, there has been considerable discussion of what to say about this issue.

It is often suggested that instrumental rationality might be all of practical rationality – that to be rational in respect of one’s actions is just to be instrumentally rational. This view has serious implications for the normativity of morality, since it suggests that it is not always rational to be moral. Some philosophers suggest that a proper understanding of instrumental rationality shows that we should reject this view.

Citing this article:
Way, Jonathan. Rationality, instrumental, 2012, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L148-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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