Toward a normative theory of rationality
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This project offers an articulation of rationality in terms of normativity—that what it means to be acting rationally, in thought or in deed, can be understood via a notion of being bound or obliged to certain behaviors given a prior structure that delimits what is rational to assert in a discourse or perform in a society. In the explicit articulation of the role of norms in limning rationality, this project also emphasizes the opportunity and obligation to self-critically assess the value of the metalinguistic and metapractical standards that license rational assertions and behaviors. After an introduction, section 2 examines the role of rational constraint in Kant’s account of representation, concluding that the transcendental story his philosophy leaves us with impels us to look for an immanent socio-linguistic account of the normativity that obliges us to think and behave in certain ways, rather than lodging the force of normativity in transcendentality. Section 3 then examines Robert Brandom’s inferential semantics by addressing prominent responses to Brandom’s program, making explicit two ways in which normativity operates in inferentialism—one at the level of objectlanguage in the articulation of the propositional commitments and entitlements that specify propositional content, the other at the level of the metalinguistic appraisal of the standards that drive object-language inferentialism. Section 4 turns to the theoretical status of normativity and its role in practical behavior, where it is argued that a notion of normativity can underpin a theory of intentional states. Examining positions on naturalism, the author proposes that a causal account of intentionality, made explicit by the prescriptive nature of the theory advanced, provides a naturalist view of normativity for which norms are in explanations of social states as laws are in explanations of physical states. Hence the obligation to self-critically reflect on and revise the norms that delimit ethical behavior in social systems is understood as commensurate with the obligation to self-critically reflect on and revise the norms that delimit warranted assertions in epistemic discourse. The conclusion offers some remarks on the prospects for rational revision in both a discipline’s discourse and a society’s standards of behavior.
Stovall, Preston John (2008). Toward a normative theory of rationality. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from