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Beyond Optimizing: a Study of Rational Choice

Slote, Michael

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ISBN 10: 0674069188 / ISBN 13: 9780674069183
Published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1989
Used Condition: Very Good Hardcover
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192 pages. Light sun-fade to dust jacket spine, else a clean, tight copy. Record # 459251. Bookseller Inventory # 459251

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Beyond Optimizing: a Study of Rational ...

Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Publication Date: 1989

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Very Good

Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


Philosophy, economics, and decision theory have long been dominated by the idea that rational choice consists of seeking or achieving one's own greatest good. Beyond Optimizing argues that our ordinary understanding of practical reason is more complex than this, and also that optimizing/maximizing views are inadequately supported by the considerations typically offered in their favor.

Michael Slote challenges the long-dominant conception of individual rationality, which has to a large extent shaped the very way we think about the essential problems and nature of rationality, morality, and the relations between them. He contests the accepted view by appealing to a set of real-life examples, claiming that our intuitive reaction to these examples illustrates a significant and prevalent, if not always dominant, way of thinking. Slote argues that common sense recognizes that one can reach a point where "enough is enough," be satisfied with what one has, and, hence, rationally decline an optimizing alternative. He suggests that, in the light of common sense, optimizing behavior is often irrational. Thus, Slote is not merely describing an alternative mode of rationality; he is offering a rival theory. And the numerous parallels he points out between this common-sense theory of rationality and common-sense morality are then shown to have important implications for the long-standing disagreement between commonsense morality and utilitarian consequentialism. Beyond Optimizing is notable for its use of a much richer vocabulary of criticism than optimizing/maximizing models ever call upon. And it further argues that recent empirical investigations of the development of altruism and moral motivation need to be followed up by psychological studies of how moderation, and individual rationality more generally, take shape within developing individuals.


"Economists, political scientists, and philosophers who see the theory of rational choice as the only possible basis for social science have frequently argued that their exploration of the consequences of treating mankind as 'optimisers' or 'rational maximisers' is no more than a sophistication of our commonsense view that we ought, rationally, to do the best we can. Utilitarians have similarly appealed to the obviousness of the assumption that each of us ought, prudently, to do the best we can for ourselves in arguing that all of us ought, morally, to do the best we can for all of us. Michael Slote deftly and convincingly demonstrates that commonsense finds much that is acceptable and indeed rational in non-optimising behaviour. Moderation is a virtue, and notjust because moderation in the short run is Instrumentally optimal in the long run; the person who sticks to her plans without incessantly seeking to improve on them is not irrational -- but the optimiser may justly be deplored as a restless, immoderate, and insatiable character. Displaying in argument the same judiciousness and moderation he defends as virtues, Slote does not claim that the divergence between commonsense accounts of prudence and reasonableness and the assumptions of rational choice theory is a knock-down refutation of the latter. He is content to persuade us that an adequate theory of prudential (and moral) rationality must embrace complexities few philosophers have been willing to recognise. He has written a most engaging, thoughtful, and thought-provoking book." -Alan Ryan, Princeton University
--Alan Ryan (Princeton University)

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