The concept of rationality is a common thread through the human and social sciences - from political science to philosophy, from economics to sociology, and from management science to decision analysis. But what counts as rational action and rational behavior?
Jose Luis Bermudez explores decision theory as a theory of rationality. Decision theory is the mathematical theory of choice and for many social scientists it makes the concept of rationality mathematically tractable and scientifically legitimate.
Yet rationality is a concept with several dimensions and the theory of rationality has different roles to play. It plays an action-guiding role (prescribing what counts as a rational solution of a given decision problem). It plays a normative role (giving us the tools to pass judgment not just on how a decision problem was solved, but also on how it was set up in the first place). And it plays a predictive/explanatory role (telling us how rational agents will behave, or why they did what they did).
This controversial but accessible book shows that decision theory cannot play all of these roles simultaneously. And yet, it argues, no theory of rationality can play one role without playing the other two. The conclusion is that there is no hope of taking decision theory as a theory of rationality.
"Bermudez makes an important contribution to an area that has already generated a great deal of debate. His description of the challenges to decision theory and the strategies for addressing them is thought provoking. If he succeeds in making psychologists and others more reluctant to use the word rationality, it will be no great loss." --Gordon Pitz, Contemporary Psychology
"This book does an admirable job of surveying and engaging the different possible responses to the challenges it addresses, so it is particularly worth reading to get a nuanced picture of the state of the field... the book gives us not only a thorough assessment of the various challenges facing decision theory, but also a clear way to frame discussion of the relationships among the different purposes decision theory might serve." --Lara Buchak, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
About the Author:
Jose Luis Bermudez is Professor of Philosophy at Washington University in St Louis, where he is director of the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology program and of the Center for Programs in Arts and Sciences.