Saturday, June 20, 2009

On Autonomy and Rationality

Here is an old post by philosopher Richard Chappell from philosophy etc.

Here is an important extract:

(8) Reasons responsiveness: the ability to recognize and respond to reasons.

Arpaly suggests that only the last of these is strictly necessary for moral responsibility. (It's also true that someone incapable of agent-autonomy won't be a moral agent, but she suggests that this is because both have the same precondition: being a reflective creature.) In any case, Arpaly seems right in observing that mere lapses in agent-autonomy don't excuse: there are plenty of blameworthy akratic actions (and some praiseworthy ones too, cf. Huck Finn).

A couple more notes:
* Authenticity is also relevant to (the degree of) moral responsibility, insofar as we are more praiseworthy or blameworthy, on her account, when the morally significant concerns behind our actions are deeper concerns of ours.

* Historicism about responsibility (the view that whether S is morally responsible in phi-ing depends on extrinsic historical facts about how S came to be the way she is) may partly be motivated by confusing 'independence of mind' [which is an uncontroversially historical notion] with other -- more important -- ahistorical senses of 'autonomy'.

* In light of all this ambiguity, we might do better to retire the word 'autonomy' in favour of whichever precise sense we have in mind: self-control, mental independence, authenticity, reasons-responsiveness, or whatever.

Here's why this is important. The broadest meaning of what it means to be rational is to do what one has good reason to do. i.e. the ability to repond to reasons is rationality. A rational action is one that is properly motivated by reasons, while an irrational one is insufficiently motivated by reason. i.e. it is out of proportion to the reasons for doing it. Whether or not we actually have free will, the rationality (an therefore the morality) of our actions depends only on what motivated it and to what extent, whther or not what actually motivates us was pre-determined by prior events. i.e. we take it for granted that to be moral is to be rational. (That we have reason to be moral)

What follows is a tentative theory of action.

1. We necessarily do what we are motivated to do. i.e. Unless we are externally constrained (i.e. shackled, too far away, imprisoned etc), it is necessarily the case that if we did something deliberately (not accidentally), we were motivated to do so. However, if we are not motivated to do so, it is not possible for us to freely preform an action (for whatever minimal definition of free)

2. We have reasons to act and these may or may not motivate us. This is because we are imperfect beings. Ideal rational agents are perfectly motivated by reasons. This is why, there is such a thing as akrasia. Imperfect beings are akratic, perfect beings are not.

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