Philosophical Studies

, Volume 157, Issue 1, pp 125–140 | Cite as

Instrumental rationality, symmetry and scope



Instrumental rationality prohibits one from being in the following state: intending to pass a test, not intending to study, and believing one must intend to study if one is to pass. One could escape from this incoherent state in three ways: by intending to study, by not intending to pass, or by giving up one’s instrumental belief. However, not all of these ways of proceeding seem equally rational: giving up one’s instrumental belief seems less rational than giving up an end, which itself seems less rational than intending the means. I consider whether, as some philosophers allege, these “asymmetries” pose a problem for the wide-scope formulation of instrumental rationality. I argue that they do not. I also present an argument in favor of the wide-scope formulation. The arguments employed here in defense of the wide-scope formulation of instrumental rationality can also be employed in defense of the wide-scope formulations of other rational requirements.


Instrumental rationality Rational requirements Symmetry Wide-scope Narrow-scope 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Missouri - St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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