Self-Subverting Principles of Choice

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 16 (1):1 - 10 (1986)
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The thesis that rationality consists in the straight-forward maximization of utility has not lacked critics. Typically, however, detractors reject the Humean picture of rationality upon which it seems based; they seek to emancipate reason from the tyranny of the passions. It is, then, noteworthy when an attack on this thesis comes from ‘within the ranks.’David Gauthier's paper ‘Reason and Maximization’ is just such an attack; and for this reason, among others, it is interesting. It is not successful, though. In defense of this conclusion, we shall begin by relating the essentials of Gauthier's argument. Then we shall examine in some detail Gauthier's claim that the principle of straighforward max-imization fails to be self-supporting. We shall argue that Gauthier's defense of this claim is at best incomplete. Finally, we shall show that the fact that a normative principle is self-subverting or non-self-supporting does not entail that the principle is defective.
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