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Look Inside Ulysses and the Sirens

Ulysses and the Sirens
Studies in Rationality and Irrationality


  • Date Published: October 1984
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521269841

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About the Authors
  • This book was first published in 1984, as the revised edition of a 1979 original. The text is composed of studies in a descending sequence from perfect rationality, through imperfect and problematical rationality, to irrationality. Specifically human rationality is characterized by its capacity to relate strategically to the future, in contrast to the myopic 'gradient climbing' of natural selection. There is trenchant analysis of some of the parallels proposed in this connection between the biological and the social sciences. In the chapter on imperfect rationality the crucial notion is that of 'binding oneself', as Ulysses did before setting out to the Sirens, when weakness of will may prevent us from using our capacity for perfect rationality. The second half of the book deals with rational-actor theory, comparing its logical power and success to rival approaches, and with the varieties of irrationality expressed in contradictory beliefs and desires.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 1984
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521269841
    • length: 206 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 152 x 13 mm
    • weight: 0.3kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Preface to the revised edition
    Preface and acknowledgements
    Part I. Perfect Rationality: Beyond Gradient-Climbing:
    1. Introduction
    2. The locally maximizing machine
    3. The globally maximizing machine
    4. Strategic behaviour in animals and men
    5. Functionalist explanation in sociology
    Part II. Imperfect Rationality: Ulysses and the Sirens:
    1. Introduction
    2. Towards a definition
    3. Pascal
    4. Descartes
    5. Inconsistent time preferences
    6. Endogenous change of preferences
    7. Precommitment in animal behaviour
    8. Abdication from power
    9. Some conclusions and further questions
    Part III. Problematic Rationality: Some Unresolved Problems in the Theory of Rational Behaviour:
    1. Introduction
    2. Games without solutions
    3. Lexicographic preferences
    4. Subjective probability
    5. Maximizing, satisficing and natural selection
    6. Traditional behaviour and random behaviour
    7. Explaining altruism
    8. Inconstancy
    9. Paradox
    10. And so what
    Part IV. Irrationality: Contradictions of the Mind:
    1. Introduction
    2. Hate
    3. Love
    4. Self-deception

  • Editor

    Jon Elster

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