Research Article

On Three Alleged Theories of Rational Behavior


a1 University of Alabama [email protected]


What behavior is rational? It's rational to act ethically, some think. Others endorse instrumentalism – it is rational to pursue one's goals. Still others say that acting rationally always involves promoting one's self-interest. Many philosophers have given each of these answers. But these answers don't really conflict; they aren't vying to describe some shared concept or to solve some mutually acknowledged problem. In so far as this is debated, it is a pseudo-debate. The different uses of ‘rational action’ differ merely in meaning. I shall defend the following claims: ‘rational behavior’ is used in ethical, prudential, and instrumental ways (section I); these uses of ‘rational behavior’ are distinct (section II); they do not represent competing theories of rational behavior (section III); we should stop using ‘rational behavior’ ethically and prudentially, but we may continue its instrumental use (section IV).