14 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2012
Date Written: May 17, 2012
Rationality involves the power to reason appropriately, although exactly what this requires is a matter of profound disagreement. The concept of rationality features prominently in a number of academic disciplines including philosophy, economics, and psychology, as well as in law. But it does so in a variety of distinct ways and through different conceptions. In this essay, I outline three general methodological projects that rely on different conceptions of rationality: “narrow” normative, “broad” normative, and explanatory. The narrow normative project invokes the instrumental means-ends conception of rationality familiar to economic theory. The broad normative project conceives of rationality more expansively by invoking more robust notions of the means and ends of decision-making. The explanatory project, carried out in different ways in philosophy and psychology, relies on aspects of rationality to explain or interpret human behavior. In discussing these three conceptions, I also reflect on their relationships to legal theory and to legal doctrine.
This essay serves as an introduction to the Meador Lectures on Rationality held at the University of Alabama School of Law. The lectures were delivered by Rosabeth Kanter (Harvard Business School), Dean Hanoch Dagan (Tel Aviv University, Buchmann Faculty of Law), Phoebe Ellsworth (University of Michigan Law School), and Ronald J. Allen (Northwestern University School of Law).
Keywords: rational, reasonable, inference, sapience, means, ends, preferences, utility, probability, bounded, heuristic, bias, standards of proof, summary judgment, sufficiency of the evidence, competence, insanity, expectations, judging, self-interest, benevolence, complexity
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By Brian Leiter