Philosophical Topics (forthcoming)

Wes Siscoe
University of Cologne
A number of formal epistemologists have argued that perfect rationality requires probabilistic coherence, a requirement that they often claim applies only to ideal agents. However, in “Rationality as an Absolute Concept”, Roy Sorensen contends that ‘rational’ is an absolute term. Just as Peter Unger argued that being flat requires that a surface be completely free of bumps and blemishes, Sorensen claims that being rational requires being perfectly rational. However, when we combine these two views, they lead to counterintuitive results. If being rational requires being perfectly rational, and only the probabilistically coherent are perfectly rational, then this indicts all ordinary agents as irrational. In this paper, I will attempt to resolve this conflict by arguing that Sorensen is only partly correct. One important sense of ‘rational,’ the sanctioning sense of ‘rational’, is an absolute term, but another important sense of ‘rational,’ the sense in which someone can have rational capacities, is not. I will, then, show that this distinction has important consequences for theorizing about ideal rationality, developing an account of the relationship between ordinary and ideal rationality. Because the sanctioning sense of ‘rational’ is absolute, it is rationally required to adopt the most rational attitude available, but which attitude is most rational can change depending on whether we are dealing with ideal agents or people more like ourselves.
Keywords Ideal Rationality  Probabilistic Coherence  Absolute Terms  Relative Terms
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