‘Early Stage’ Instrumental Irrationality: Lessons From Apathy

A. Kalis, Stefan Kaiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Understanding different forms of irrationality is an important aim in both philosophy and psychology, and the relation between everyday and pathological irrationality is a recurrent theme in the philosophy of psychiatry. Most work on irrationality in these different disciplines focuses on situations where the agent reaches a conclusion regarding what to do, but then somehow does not act on this conclusion. In this article, we argue that this is not the only form instrumental irrationality can take. The article attempts to broaden the perspective on instrumental irrationality by analyzing situations where an agent can be called instrumentally irrational for failing to reach a conclusion regarding what to do. We discuss two possible ‘early stage’ problems that might explain this kind of irrationality: lack of clarity about one’s goals, and problems in determining possible means to attain one’s goals. In philosophy, early stage irrationality is sometimes discussed under the heading of accidie, which is linked to depression. We try to show that this analysis cannot provide a substantial account of early stage irrationality. Instead, we argue that accidie is closer to the psychiatric symptom of apathy, and we explore how recent insights in apathy provide a fruitful basis for deeper understanding of early stage instrumental irrationality. We conclude by showing that these insights also shed new light on the capacities required for being instrumentally rational.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E1-E12
JournalPhilosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


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