“Acts, Attitudes, and Rational Choice.”

On February 26th, Doug Portmore will be giving a talk as part of the Freedom Center Colloquium Series. Please join us in the Kendrick Room at the Freedom Center for Professor Portmore’s talk!

I argue that we have obligations not only to perform certain actions, but also to form certain attitudes (such as desires, beliefs, and intentions), and this despite the fact that we rarely, if ever, have direct voluntary control over our attitudes. Moreover, I argue that whatever obligations we have with respect to our actions derive from our obligations with respect to our attitudes. More specifically, I argue that an agent is obliged to perform an act if and only if it’s the act that she would perform if she were to form the attitudes that she’s obliged to form. This view, which I call attitudism, has three important implications. First, it implies that an adequate practical theory must not be exclusively act-orientated. That is, it must require more from us than just the performance of certain voluntary acts. Additionally, it must require us to (involuntarily) form certain attitudes. Second, it implies that an adequate practical theory must be attitude-dependent. That is, it must hold that which acts we’re required to perform depends on which attitudes we’re required to form. Third, it implies that an adequate practical theory can’t require us to perform acts that we would not perform even if we were to form the attitudes that we’re obliged to form. I then show how these implications can help us both to address certain puzzling cases of rational choice and to understand why most typical practical theories (utilitarianism, virtue ethics, rational egoism, Rossian deontology, etc.) are mistaken.