What’s a rational self-torturer to do?


This paper concerns Warren Quinn’s famous “The Puzzle of the Self-Torturer.” I argue that even if we accept his assumption that practical rationality is purely instrumental such that what he ought to do is simply a function of how the relevant options compare to each other in terms of satisfying his actual preferences that doesn’t mean that every explanation as to why he shouldn’t advance to the next level must appeal to the idea that so advancing would be suboptimal in terms of the satisfaction of his actual preferences. Rather, we can admit that his advancing would always be optimal, but argue that advancing isn’t always what he ought to do given that advancing sometimes fails to meet some necessary condition for being what he ought to do. For instance, something can be what he ought to do only if it’s an option for him. What’s more, something can be what he ought to do only if it’s something that he can do without responding inappropriately to his reasons—or, so, I argue. Thus, the solution to the puzzle is, I argue, to realize that, in certain circumstances, advancing is not what the self-torturer ought to do given that he can do so only by responding inappropriately to his reasons.

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Douglas W. Portmore
Arizona State University


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