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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 44, 1998

Theoretical Ethics

Alistair M. Macleod
Pages 144-149

Instrumental Rationality and the Instrumental Doctrine

In opposition to the instrumental doctrine of rationality, I argue that the rationality of the end served by a strategy is a necessary condition of the rationality of the strategy itself: means to ends cannot be rational unless the ends are rational. First, I explore cases-involving ‘proximate’ ends (that is, ends whose achievement is instrumental to the pursuit of some more fundamental end) — where even instrumentalists must concede that the rationality of a strategy presupposes the rationality of the end it serves. Second, I draw attention to the counter-intuitive consequences — in cases involving ‘non-proximate’ ends — of substituting (allegedly more manageable) questions about de facto ends for questions about the rationality of ends. Third, I argue-against Nozick — that it is a mistake to suppose that the only question dividing instrumentalists from non-instrumentalists is whether the instrumental doctrine needs supplementation. Finally, I try to show that questions about the rationality of ends need not be viewed as impossibly daunting.

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