Week 2: Theoretical Rationality

How to give a strong presentation (preliminary version)

Do not read, unless you are a weak speaker and a strong reader.

Have an introduction and a conclusion.

Keep the level of detail appropriate for the audience.

Be clear and well organized.

Use humour as appropriate.

Use effective visual aids: overheads, Powerpoint, handouts.

Engage your audience with eye contact and enthusiasm.

Listen carefully to understand questions and answer them fully.

Why be rational?

Against reason: Zen, Feyerabend. Faith?

Is it circular to give reasons for being rational?


Theoretical: what to believe.

Practical: what to do.

How can these contribute to each other?

Theoretical Rationality

To be rational is to have reasons that justify your beliefs.

Foundationalism: reasons must have a basis.

Coherentism: reasons must fit together.

These approaches use different metaphors for knowledge.

Discussion Questions for Week 3

  1. How does Harman distinguish theoretical from practical rationality? How does he relate them?
  2. Are conservatism and simplicity appropriate criteria for evaluating reasons?
  3. How does coherence contribute to theoretical and practical rationality?
  4. What is the difference between procedural and substantive practical rationality?
  5. What are the main arguments for and against purely procedural rationality?
  6. What are the main arguments for and against substantive rationality?
  7. Is it contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of your finger?


PHIL 680

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated Sept. 19, 2005.