Following the Rules: Practical Reasoning and Deontic Constraint

Paperback | February 14, 2011

byJoseph Heath

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For centuries, philosophers have been puzzled by the fact that people often respect moral obligations as a matter of principle, setting aside considerations of self-interest. In more recent years, social scientists have been puzzled by the more general phenomenon of rule-following, the factthat people often abide by social norms even when doing so produces undesirable consequences. Experimental game theorists have demonstrated conclusively that the old-fashioned picture of "economic man," constantly reoptimizing in order to maximize utility in all circumstances, cannot provideadequate foundations for a general theory of rational action. The dominant response, however, has been a slide toward irrationalism. If people are ignoring the consequences of their actions, it is claimed, it must be because they are making some sort of a mistake. In Following the Rules, Joseph Heath attempts to reverse this trend, by showing how rule-following can be understood as an essential element of rational action. The first step involves showing how rational choice theory can be modified to incorporate deontic constraint as a feature of rationaldeliberation. The second involves disarming the suspicion that there is something mysterious or irrational about the psychological states underlying rule-following. According to Heath, human rationality is a by-product of the so-called "language upgrade" that we receive as a consequence of thedevelopment of specific social practices. As a result, certain constitutive features of our social environment - such as the rule-governed structure of social life - migrate inwards, and become constitutive features of our psychological faculties. This in turn explains why there is an indissolublebond between practical rationality and deontic constraint. In the end, what Heath offers is a naturalistic, evolutionary argument in favor of the traditional Kantian view that there is an internal connection between being a rational agent and feeling the force of one's moral obligations.

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For centuries, philosophers have been puzzled by the fact that people often respect moral obligations as a matter of principle, setting aside considerations of self-interest. In more recent years, social scientists have been puzzled by the more general phenomenon of rule-following, the factthat people often abide by social norms even w...

Joseph Heath is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:354 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.68 inPublished:February 14, 2011Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199768331

ISBN - 13:9780199768332

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. Instrumental rationality2. Social order3. Deontic constraint4. Intentional states5. Preference neocognitivism6. A naturalistic perspective7. Transcendental necessity8. Weakness of will9. Normative ethicsConclusion

Editorial Reviews

"Ethicists and social theorists skeptical of strictly consequentialist explanations of human behavior should read this penetrating book. Highly recommended." --C.A. Striblen, CHOICE