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Following the Rules: Practical Reasoning and Deontic Constraint [Bargain Price] [Hardcover]

Joseph Heath

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Book Description

Oct. 30 2008
For centuries, philosophers have been puzzled by the fact that people often respect moral obligations as a matter of principle, setting aside considerations of self-interest. In more recent years, social scientists have been puzzled by the more general phenomenon of rule-following, the fact that people often abide by social norms even when doing so produces undesirable consequences. Experimental game theorists have demonstrated conclusively that the old-fashioned picture of "economic man," constantly reoptimizing in order to maximize utility in all circumstances, cannot provide adequate foundations for a general theory of rational action. The dominant response, however, has been a slide toward irrationalism. If people are ignoring the consequences of their actions, it is claimed, it must be because they are making some sort of a mistake. In Following the Rules, Joseph Heath attempts to reverse this trend, by showing how rule-following can be understood as an essential element of rational action. The first step involves showing how rational choice theory can be modified to incorporate deontic constraint as a feature of rational deliberation. The second involves disarming the suspicion that there is something mysterious or irrational about the psychological states underlying rule-following. According to Heath, human rationality is a by-product of the so-called "language upgrade" that we receive as a consequence of the development of specific social practices. As a result, certain constitutive features of our social environment-such as the rule-governed structure of social life-migrate inwards, and become constitutive features of our psychological faculties. This in turn explains why there is an indissoluble bond between practical rationality and deontic constraint. In the end, what Heath offers is a naturalistic, evolutionary argument in favor of the traditional Kantian view that there is an internal connection between being a rational agent and feeling the force of one's moral obligations.

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"Following the Rules brings together in a provocative and interesting way various literatures that moral philosophers should consider. It makes many novel proposals worth some thought. And it propounds as a basic moral motive something no more edifying and ennobling than a tendency to conform and punish non-conformers. It seems to me that this proposal deserves serious contemporary consideration. I think that this is an excellent book."--Joseph Mendola, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"Ethicists and social theorists skeptical of strictly consequentialist explanations of human behavior should read this penetrating book. Highly recommended."--C.A. Striblen, CHOICE

"Establishes a wholly new standard for books of this kind... Heath's book truly advances our understanding of the normative dimension of human life." -- Jaroslav Peregrin, International Review of Pragmatics

About the Author

Joseph Heath is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Such a shame that this will be read by almost no one.. April 16 2013
By Ognian Bozikov - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I generally can't be bothered enough to write reviews and I'm sure, Mr. Heath doesn't need this kind of external validation to feel confident in the merits of his work; it just bugs me to no end that a gem like this is bound to remain in obscuration, read only by those who don't really matter..

From the layman on philosophy matters that I am, this title naturally required more attention and looking up of terminology and references than the popsci category of things, I've gone through in the past, but boy, it sure was that much worthier!

One of the main payoffs for me was that, even though the primary objective of the book is to articulate a convincing argument for the existence and persistence of the uniquely human normative tendencies, along the way of doing so, it brought a tremendous amount of food for thought (and expanded FOV) on such diverse topics as psychology, economics, social justice, nature of consciousness and AI development challenges.

As the review theme suggests, the one unfortunate side-effect, reading this book has is to make starker the contrast between this kind of discourse, brilliant elucidation and cut-through long standing philosophical arguments, and the common denominator public sphere conversation we're gradually forced to accept as normal. Still; easily the most satisfying and (I suspect) important non-fiction work I've read in a while.

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