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A radically unorthodox theory of rational action is the central idea in a reformulation of Kant's ethical and political thought, wherein rational action can be determined simply by principles, regardless of consequences.
It is no exaggeration to say that this may be the most underrated political philosophy book of the last half a century. In "A Theory of Freedom," Stanley Benn develops an interesting theory whose scope encompasses not just freedom but belief, privacy and other aspects of human life. His starting point is a radically unorthodox theory of action. Whereas most philosophers accept Hume's divisions between fact and value, thought and sentiment, and belief and action, Benn is inclined to unify them. It is our beliefs and not our desires that commit us to action. Here is one example Benn gives of an "epistemic action commitment": suppose you ask me what day it is and I have a belief that today is Thursday. Now, all else being equal, this belief commits me to the action of responding appropriately when asked. A Humean would claim that my action of speaking up must stem from some desire, but Benn points out that my commitment need not be related to desire in any way. In one of my favorite passages of the book, (underlined and marked with three exclamation marks in the margins of my copy,) Benn writes:
"Rationality in belief is no more and no less a matter of logical necessity than rationality in action. Just as a practical syllogism yields not an action but an action commitment as its conclusion, so a theoretical syllogism yields not a belief but a belief commitment."
In short, Benn's idea of freedom involves choosing one's own epistemic action commitments. Although I need to re-read this book to understand all the nuances of Benn's view, I believe that the freedom he is interested has more to do with the question of political freedom than the free will/determinism debate.Read more ›
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