Speaker: Johanna Thoma (London School of Economics)
Title: Temptation and Preference-Based Instrumental Rationality
Abstract: Temptations are sometimes understood as temporary shifts in an agent’s preferences: Before dinner, I prefer to only drink one glass of wine. But once I have had that first glass, I prefer to have another. What has been puzzling about these cases is that, on the one hand, an agent seems to do better by her own lights if she does not give into the temptation, and does so without engaging in costly commitment strategies. This seems to indicate that it is instrumentally rational for her to resist temptation. On the other hand, resisting temptation also requires her to act contrary to the preferences she has at the time of temptation. But that seems to be instrumentally irrational as well. I here consider the two most prominent types of argument why resisting temptation could nevertheless be instrumentally rational, namely two-tier and intra-personal cooperation arguments. I establish that the arguments either fail or are redundant. In particular, the arguments fail under the pervasive assumption in both decision theory and the wider literature on practical rationality that the agent’s preferences over the objects of choice are themselves the standard of instrumental rationality. And they either still fail or they become redundant when we give up that assumption.