Rationality and Salience

Margaret P. Gilbert

University of California, Irvine

September 1, 1989

Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 57, pp. 61-77, 1989

A number of authors, Including Thomas Schelling and David Lewis, have envisaged a model of the generation of action in coordination problems in which salience plays a crucial role. Empirical studies suggest that human subjects are likely to try for the salient combination of actions, a tendency leading to fortunate results. Does rationality dictate that one aim at the salient combination? Some have thought so, Thus proclaiming that salience is all that is needed to resolve coordination problems for agents who are rational in the sense of game theory. I argue against this position; rational agents will not necessarily aim for the salient. It remains to explain how the salient comes to be chosen by human beings. Various possibilities are noted. One involves a mechanism invoked by Hume and Wittgenstein in other contexts: we may project an unreasoned compulsion onto reason, falsely believing that rationality dictates our choice of the salient.

Keywords: Coordination, Metaphysics, Problem Solving, David Lewis

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Date posted: December 14, 2007 ; Last revised: July 16, 2011

Suggested Citation

Gilbert, Margaret P., Rationality and Salience (September 1, 1989). Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 57, pp. 61-77, 1989. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1071223

Contact Information

Margaret P. Gilbert (Contact Author)
University of California, Irvine ( email )
Humanities Office Building
Irvine, CA 92697-4555
United States
HOME PAGE: http://www.faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=5365
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