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Emma Borg (Reading)
In Defence of Individual Rationality

2021 | 2022


MONDAY, 25 April 2022

18.00 - 19.45


Common-sense (or folk) psychology holds that (generally) we do what we do for the reasons we have. This common-sense approach is embodied in claims like “I went to the kitchen because I wanted a drink” or “She took a coat because she thought it might rain and she hoped to stay dry”. However, the veracity of these common-sense psychological explanations has been challenged by experimental evidence (primarily from behavioural economics and social psychology) which appears to show that individuals are systematically irrational – that often we do not do what we do because of the reasons we have. Recently, some of the same experimental evidence has also been used to level a somewhat different challenge at the common-sense view, arguing that the overarching aim of reasoning is not to deliver better or more logical decisions for individual reasoners, but to improve group decision making or to protect an individual’s sense of self. This paper explores the range of challenges that experimental work has been taken to raise for the common-sense approach and suggests some potential responses. Overall, I argue that the experimental evidence should not (currently) lead us to a rejection of individual rationality. 


Emma Borg

Emma Borg is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading and Joint Director of the Reading Centre for Cognition Research. She has held a number of visiting and advisory positions, including the White Distinguished Fellow for Philosophy at the University of Chicago, and sitting on the Executive Committee of the Mind Association. Currently she serves on the Advisory Board of the Leverhulme Trust, and (due to her work in business ethics) as an Independent Advisor to the Professional Standards Committee of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). In the past, her research has focused on philosophy of language, particularly the semantics-pragmatics interface, but she currently holds a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship for work exploring our understanding of human action.

Meeting Address

Woburn Suite, Senate House University of London, Malet St, London WC1E 7HU.

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meeting time

The Society’s philosophy talks take place every fortnight on Mondays throughout the academic year. Each talk starts at 18.00 and lasts for approximately an hour. The remainder of the time is dedicated to discussion, which ends at 19.45.


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Draft Papers

Following over a century of tradition, draft papers for all the talks are available in advance. Please note that draft papers can only be cited with the authors permission (see below for final publication and subscription details). The draft paper for a talk is available approximately one week prior to its schedule delivery.

Final Papers

For the past 141 years, the Proceedings has featured widely respected papers delivered by a range of prominent philosophers, such as Alfred North Whitehead, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, A.J. Ayer, P.F. Strawson, Karl Popper, Elizabeth Anscombe, Bernard Williams, Hubert Dreyfus, Alexander Nehamas, and Onora O’Neill. Final drafts of the papers – including discussion notes and exemplary graduate papers – are published in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.


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