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The Nature of Rationality (Princeton Paperbacks) [Kindle Edition]

Robert Nozick
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Repeatedly and successfully, the celebrated Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick has reached out to a broad audience beyond the confines of his discipline, addressing ethical and social problems that matter to every thoughtful person. Here Nozick continues his search for the connections between philosophy and "ordinary" experience. In the lively and accessible style that his readers have come to expect, he offers a bold theory of rationality, the one characteristic deemed to fix humanity's "specialness." What are principles for? asks Nozick. We could act simply on whim, or maximize our self-interest and recommend that others do the same. As Nozick explores rationality of decision and rationality of belief, he shows how principles actually function in our day-to-day thinking and in our efforts to live peacefully and productively with each other.

Throughout, the book combines daring speculations with detailed investigations to portray the nature and status of rationality and the essential role that imagination plays in this singular human aptitude.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

To Harvard philosophy professor Nozick, rationality and belief are each an evolutionary adaptation to a world that changes in nonregular ways. Our acts resonate with symbolic meanings and "stand for" our principles and beliefs. In this boldly original, technical inquiry which will reward serious students of philosophy, Nozick uses decision theory to propose new rules of rational decision-making that take into account the symbolic, practical and evolutionary components of our behavior. He considers bias, the role of imagination, rational social cooperation and how society's decision-making results in incremental or sweeping institutional changes. This challenging treatise champions reason as a faculty that enables us to transcend our mere animal status and to strive toward goals by the light of principles.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Nozick is best known to the general public as the author of Anarchy, State and Utopia (BasicBks: HarperCollins, 1977), a work of political philosophy. He began his philosophical career, however, as a specialist in decision theory. Now he returns to his early field, suggesting a new approach that involves weighing conflicting accounts of rationality rather than choosing one account exclusively. Then he applies his approach to several unsolved problems. Contrary to most economists, he contends that it is often rational to take sunk costs into account; and he introduces a new category, symbolic utility, into decision theory. Nozick also innovatively addresses rationality of belief. He offers an evolutionary account of how the world shapes our beliefs and argues that goals can be evaluated by noninstrumental standards. This brilliant and intricately argued work is filled with original ideas. Despite some of the technical material, most of it is within the grasp of interested lay readers. Highly recommended.
- David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ. , Ohio
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2781 KB
  • Print Length: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (December 19, 1994)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002SQKR8E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #658,513 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Nozick, a consummate philosopher in the analytical tradition, addresses the central issue of philosophy itself. What is the nature of rationality? If Man is the rational animal that philosophers claim, what are the principles, features, properties, methods, functions, and purposes of reason itself? Nozick concedes any attempt to ground "reasoning" fails, and all reasons for reason are circular, but not viciously circular.

For the brevity of the book, Nozick covers considerable territory. He discusses how reason itself functions and the functions themselves (interpersonal, intellectual, overcoming temptation, investment, symbolic utility, and teleological devices), using decision-value (the most technical topic), Newcomb's Problem, Prisoners' Dilemma, and other distinctions, to explicate how one arrives at rational belief, the reasons we want rational beliefs, and some rules to obtain it.

The most interesting (and disappointing) chapter is on evolutionary considerations. Few philosophers to date raise the specter of evolution at all (unless it is the topic), when, as Nozick rightly suggests, it may have its own overriding features and its own reasons and justifications. He's clearly on to an important facet and introduces issues that "limit" the need for rationality as well as require it.

My principal cavil is that he treats natural selection as a purposive agent without any disclaimers or caveats. Worse, his natural selection's purposive agency is, of course, teleological. First, that's bad form, and second, it's bad (actually wrong) evolutionary science. A subsidiary cavil is that evolution becomes a "rug" under which a-rational, even irrational, decisions may be swept (which may be true, if he is not persuasive).
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still a classical approach April 10, 2000
Nozick is famous, always clear-thinking, always expressing himself briefly but to the point. His style makes the book a wonderful philosophical enterprise. But in fact, Nozick is still where social science was 10 years ago. He makes an impressive effort of combining different paradigms, evidentialism, causal theory, cognitive psychology, in one overall approach; he then applies this monstruous creature to old problems and paradoxes. The true reasons of these paradoxes, as was shown, for instance, by Bach (1984), are violations of applicability of classical rationality and decision-making theory. Not surprisingly, Nozick arrives to the same result with quite a different methodology. So, in brief, the book remains a brilliant study of ideas brought into social science years before; Nozick succeeds in beautifully arranging various paradigms. He still fails to be innovative in what concerns foundations.
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Robert Nozick (1938-2002) was an American political philosopher and professor at Harvard University; he also wrote Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Philosophical Explanations, and The Examined Life.

He admits early in this 1993 book, "The political philosophy presented in Anarchy, State, and Utopia ignored the importance to us of joint and official serious symbolic statement and expression of our social ties and concern and hence (I have written) is inadequate." (Pg. 32)

He suggests, "In the study of reliable processes for arriving at belief, philosophers will become technologically obsolescent. They will be replaced by cognitive and computer scientists, workers in artificial intelligence, and others." (Pg. 76)

He asserts, "My argument that instrumental rationality is not the whole of our rationality has not been disinterested. If human beings are simply Humean beings, that seems to diminish our stature. Man is the only animal not content to be simply an animal." (Pg. 138) He later adds, "But rationality's power does not reside only in its striking individual triumphs. Rationality has a cumulative force." (Pg. 175)

This is not my "favorite" among Nozick's books, but it is still of interest to students of contemporary philosophy.
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1 of 12 people found the following review helpful
According the Greek mythology, the rationality was represented by Apollo, which meant the supreme perfection and the astonishing symmetry. In this sense, the author always proposes hisproblems in a disconcertingly original way: " Why exactly should we want to act and believe rationally ? ... Why should we formulate principles of action and try to stick to them ? "

As you know, the further discussion of these interesting issues would lead us to establish a large exchange of ideas.

"The man is conservator by own nature, but when this tendency weakens, the revolutions tend to preserve it"

Ernesto Sabato
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