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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 26, 1998

Philosophy of Action

Yujian Zheng
Pages 74-80

How Genuine is the Paradox of Irrationality?

In light of interpreting a paradox of irrationality, vaguely expressed by Donald Davidson in the context of explaining weakness of will, I attempt to show that it contains a significant thesis regarding the cognitive as well as motivational basis of our normative practice. First, an irrational act must involve both a rational element and a non-rational element at its core. Second, irrationality entails free and intentional violation of fundamental norms which the agent deems right or necessary. Third, "normative interpretation" is only possible for objects that are both natural events and capable of mental operations which presuppose some freedom of will as well as constructive representation of the surrounding reality. Fourth, there is always a question of whether we strike the best balance between fitting individual mental items consistently with the overall behavior pattern and keeping our critical ability in following certain normative principles which constitute our rational background. Fifth, the paradox of irrationality reflects and polarizes a deep-seated tension in the normative human practice under the ultimate constraints of nature. Finally, the ultimate issue is how we can find the best lines on which our normative rational standards are based-"best" in the sense that they are close enough to limits of human practical potentialities and are not too high as to render our normative standards idle or even disastrous.

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