Must rational intentions maximize utility?

Philosophical Explorations 20 (sup2):73-92 (2017)
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Suppose that it is rational to choose or intend a course of action if and only if the course of action maximizes some sort of expectation of some sort of value. What sort of value should this definition appeal to? According to an influential neo-Humean view, the answer is “Utility”, where utility is defined as a measure of subjective preference. According to a rival neo-Aristotelian view, the answer is “Choiceworthiness”, where choiceworthiness is an irreducibly normative notion of a course of action that is good in a certain way. The neo-Humean view requires preferences to be measurable by means of a utility function. Various interpretations of what exactly a “preference” is are explored, to see if there is any interpretation that supports the claim that a rational agent’s “preferences” must satisfy the “axioms” that are necessary for them to be measurable in this way. It is argued that the only interpretation that supports the idea that the rational agent’s preferences must meet these axioms interprets “preferences” as a kind of value-judgment. But this turns out to be version of the neo-Aristotelian view, rather than the neo-Humean view. Rational intentions maximize expected choiceworthiness, not expected utility.

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Ralph Wedgwood
University of Southern California


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