Rational Powers in Action: Instrumental Rationality and Extended Agency

ISBN : 9780198851486

Sergio Tenenbaum
224 Pages
138 x 216 mm
Pub date
Nov 2020
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Human actions unfold over time, in pursuit of ends that are not fully specified in advance. Rational Powers in Action locates these features of the human condition at the heart of a new theory of instrumental rationality. Where many theories of rational agency focus on instantaneous choices between sharply defined outcomes, treating the temporally extended and partially open-ended character of action as an afterthought, this book argues that the deep structure of instrumental rationality can only be understood if we see how it governs the pursuit of long-term, indeterminate ends. These are ends that cannot be realized through a single momentary action, and whose content leaves partly open what counts as realizing the end. Sergio Tenenbaum argues that we need to focus on temporal duration and the indeterminacy of ends in intentional action, even to explain the rational governance of relatively simple actions. Theories of moment-by-moment preference maximization, or indeed any understanding of instrumental rationality on the basis of momentary mental items, cannot capture the fundamental structure of our instrumentally rational capacities. Tenenbaum provides a new theory of instrumental rationality as rationality in action.


1 Extended Action and Instrumental Rationality: The Structure of a Theory of Instrumental Rationality
2 Extended Theory of Rationality: Basic Tenets and Motivations
3 Pursuing Ends as the Fundamental Given Attitude: Internally Structured Conflicting Ends
4 Indeterminate Ends and the Puzzle of the Self-Torturer
5 Future-Directed Intentions and the Theory of Instrumental Rationality
6 Persisting Intentions
7 Instrumental Virtues
8 Practical Judgment and its Corresponding Vices
9 Actions, Preferences, and Risk

About the author: 

Sergio Tenenbaum is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is the editor of Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives (Oxford 2010), and the author of Appearances of the Good: An Essay on the Nature of Practical Reason (Cambridge 2007) as well as numerous articles in ethics, practical rationality, moral psychology, and Kant's practical philosophy.

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