Agency Without Rationality

  • Lisa BortolottiEmail author


In the chapter I suggest that epistemic rationality should not be seen as a condition for intentional agency, but rather as an aspiration. Common failures of epistemic rationality in agents, such as conservatism, superstition, and prejudice, do not prevent us from interpreting and predicting those agents’ behaviour on the basis of their intentional states. In some circumstances, including confabulatory explanations and optimistically biased beliefs, instances of epistemic irrationality are instrumental to agents developing an illusion of competence and coherence, and thereby sustain the agents’ motivation it pursue their goals.


  1. Alicke, Mark D., and Constantine Sedikides. 2011. Handbook of Self-Enhancement and Self-Protection. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  2. Baker, Lynn A., and Robert E. Emery. 1993. When Every Relationship Is Above Average. Law and Human Behavior 17 (4): 439–450. Scholar
  3. Bortolotti, Lisa. 2004. Can We Interpret Irrational Behavior? Behavior and Philosophy 32 (2): 359–375.Google Scholar
  4. Bortolotti, Lisa. 2005a. Delusions and the Background of Rationality. Mind & Language 20 (2): 189–208.
  5. Bortolotti, Lisa. 2005b. Intentionality Without Rationality. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (Hardback) 105 (1): 369–376.
  6. Bortolotti, Lisa. 2010. Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bortolotti, Lisa. 2014. Irrationality, 1st ed. Malden, MA: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bortolotti, Lisa. 2018a. Stranger than Fiction: Costs and Benefits of Everyday Confabulation. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 9 (2): 227–249.Google Scholar
  9. Bortolotti, Lisa. 2018b. Optimism, Agency, and Success. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.Google Scholar
  10. Buunk, Bram P., and Regina J.J.M. van der Eijnden. 1997. Perceived Prevalence, Perceived Superiority, and Relationship Satisfaction: Most Relationships Are Good, But Ours Is the Best. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23 (3): 219–228. Scholar
  11. Chinn, C.A., and W.F. Brewer. 1993. The Role of Anomalous Data in Knowledge Acquisition: A Theoretical Framework and Implications for Science Instruction. Review of Educational Research 63 (1): 1–49. Scholar
  12. Cross, K. Patricia. 1977. Not Can, But Will College Teaching Be Improved? New Directions for Higher Education 1977 (17): 1–15. Scholar
  13. Davidson, Donald. 2004. Problems of Rationality. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  14. Dennett, D.C. 1971. Intentional Systems. The Journal of Philosophy 68 (4): 87–106. Scholar
  15. Dennett, Daniel Clement. 1989. The Intentional Stance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  16. Fiske, Susan T. 2000. Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Discrimination at the Seam Between the Centuries: Evolution, Culture, Mind, and Brain. European Journal of Social Psychology 30: 299–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Haidt, J. 2001. The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment. Psychological Review 108 (4): 814–834.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hall, Lars, Petter Johansson, and Thomas Strandberg. 2012. Lifting the Veil of Morality: Choice Blindness and Attitude Reversals on a Self-Transforming Survey. PLoS ONE 7 (9): e45457. Scholar
  19. Hammond, Claudia. 2016. Does a Full Moon Make People Mad? Accessed 7 Nov.
  20. Hirstein, William. 2006. Brain Fiction: Self-Deception and the Riddle of Confabulation: Self-Deception and the Riddle of the Confabulation, New ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  21. Lawlor, Krista. 2003. Elusive Reasons: A Problem for First-Person Authority. Philosophical Psychology 16 (4): 549–564. Scholar
  22. Lilienfeld, Hal, and Scott O. Arkowitz. 2016. Lunacy and the Full Moon. Scientific American. Accessed 7 Nov.
  23. Murray, Sandra L., and John G. Holmes. 1997. A Leap of Faith? Positive Illusions in Romantic Relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23 (6): 586–604. Scholar
  24. Murray, Sandra L., John G. Holmes, and Dale W. Griffin. 1996. The Self-Fulfilling Nature of Positive Illusions in Romantic Relationships: Love Is Not Blind, But Prescient. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71 (6): 1155–1180. Scholar
  25. Nisbett, Richard E., and Timothy D. Wilson. 1977. Telling More than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes. Psychological Review 84 (3): 231–259. Scholar
  26. Picardi, Eva. 1982. Interpretazione Radicale e Teorie Della Verità. Lingua e Stile XVIII (1): 51–67.Google Scholar
  27. Picardi, Eva. 1989. Davidson on Assertion, Convention and Belief. In The Mind of Donald Davidson, ed J. Brandl and W.L. Gombocz. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  28. Picardi, Eva. 1992. Credenze E Razionalità. Iride 10 (1992–1993): 177–181. Iride 10: 177–181.Google Scholar
  29. Rusche, Sarah Nell, and Zachary W. Brewster. 2008. ‘Because They Tip for Shit!’: The Social Psychology of Everyday Racism in Restaurants. Sociology Compass 2 (6): 2008–2029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sandis, Constantine. 2015. Verbal Reports and ‘Real’ Reasons: Confabulation and Conflation. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18 (2): 267–280. Scholar
  31. Scaife, Robin. 2014. A Problem for Self-Knowledge: The Implications of Taking Confabulation Seriously. Acta Analytica 29 (4): 469–485. Scholar
  32. Sharot, Tali, Christoph W. Korn, and Raymond J. Dolan. 2011. How Unrealistic Optimism Is Maintained in the Face of Reality. Nature Neuroscience 14 (11): 1475–1479. Scholar
  33. Strijbos, Derek, and Leon de Bruin. 2015. Self-Interpretation as First-Person Mindshaping: Implications for Confabulation Research. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18 (2): 297–307. Scholar
  34. Sullivan-Bissett, Ema. 2015. Implicit Bias, Confabulation, and Epistemic Innocence. Consciousness and Cognition 33 (May): 548–560. Scholar
  35. Taylor, S.E. 1983. Adjustment to Threatening Events: A Theory of Cognitive Adaptation. American Psychologist 38: 1161–1173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Taylor, Shelley E., and Jonathon D. Brown. 1994. Positive Illusions and Well-Being Revisited: Separating Fact from Fiction. Psychological Bulletin 116 (1): 21–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Taylor, S.E., M.E. Kemeny, L.G. Aspinwall, S.G. Schneider, R. Rodriguez, and M. Herbert. 1992. Optimism, Coping, Psychological Distress, and High-Risk Sexual Behavior among Men at Risk for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 63 (3): 460–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Taylor, S.E., and David K. Sherman. 2008. Self-Enhancement and Self-Affirmation: The Consequences of Positive Self-Thoughts for Motivation and Health. In Handbook of Motivational Science, ed. James Y. Shah and W.L. Gardner, 57–70. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  39. Turner, Martha, and Max Coltheart. 2010. Confabulation and Delusion: A Common Monitoring Framework. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry 15 (1): 346–376. Scholar
  40. Vyse, Stuart A. 2013. Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, Updated ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Wilson, Timothy D., and Dolores Kraft. 1993. Why Do I Love Thee?: Effects of Repeated Introspections About a Dating Relationship on Attitudes Toward the Relationship. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 19 (4): 409–418. Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK

Personalised recommendations