The Polonsky Salon
Conversation with Prof. Sergio Tenenbaum
The Polonsky Salon is a new digital public platform at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. Polonsky Fellows and alumni will host inspiring and internationally renowned academics to discuss new ideas and cutting-edge research from various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.
The agent depicted in contemporary accounts of instrumental rationality is someone who is faced at each moment with selecting, from a range of sharply defined outcomes, those that maximize the satisfaction of the agent’s preferences. The ideal of rationality is therefore someone whose decisions at every moment best realize what their preferences happen to be. In Sergio Tenenbaum’s new book, Rational Powers in Action (Oxford University Press, 2020), he challenges this dominant picture of the instrumentally rational human being. According to Tenenbaum, most of our ends are not fully specified in advance and are furthered by actions that unfold over time. Instrumental rationality is not, therefore, a matter of efficiently maximizing preferences by selecting among fully specified outcomes, but rather of realizing these indeterminate ends over time. To understand how we do this, Tenenbaum argues that we need to appeal to a distinctive set of rational powers and virtues that govern instrumental reasoning. In our conversation, we shall discuss Tenenbaum’s exciting new account, touching on such topics as his notion of a rational power, the nature of the instrumental virtues and practical judgment, and finally, the connection between instrumental rationality and the ethical.
Prof. Sergio Tenenbaum - Dept. of Philosophy, University of Toronto
Dr. Rory O’Connell - Polonsky Academy Fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
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