Rationality, Belief, Desire I – Motivation for action from the viewpoint of the theory of mind (2003-2005)

The project aims at an analysis of the nature of rationality focusing on agents’ motivation to action. The final result should be a theory of rationality, which we think involves (i) a characterization of the factors at play when cognitive agents move from certain beliefs to others, add or eliminate beliefs from their corpus of beliefs, or opt for a course of action from several alternatives, based on a set of beliefs and desires, (ii) a set of hypotheses on how we decide among rightness criteria when we talk of the justifiedness of beliefs and actions, (iii) a set of hypotheses on the reasons which lead us to want to know (if indeed we do) if our beliefs are true and our reasoning and actions rational.

Sub-goals deriving from the project’s ultimate objective (to develop a general theory of rationality, focusing on motivation to action) are: (1) identifying and characterizing standard models of rationality (logic, probability theory, theory of decision, theory of games), (2) analysing objections to the use of these standard models to capture the workings of real cognitive agents, objections based on studies of cognition carried on in different domains, (3) characterizing the relations between logic and rationality (discussing differences between ‘reasoning’ and ‘argument’, discussing the idea of ‘a universal acceptance of logic’)(4) analysing rationality from the viewpoint of evolution, as one more adaptive feature with ‘function’ and ‘purpose’, (5) analysing relations between the mentalistic language of rationality we use to describe cognitive agents and the mechanisms of cognition, and, correlatively, the status of the assumptions of rationality in the philosophy of mind (Quine, Davidson, Dennet), (6) analysing ‘co-evolution’ of internal cognitive devices and the interpretative behaviour of agents (folk psychology, mind-reading), (7) characterizing the dimension of volition and desire of mental life, in its relation with belief (both from a philosophical and a cognitive science perspective).