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Research Forum – Sebastian Watzl (University of Oslo): "Salience plays a rational role"

April 28, 2020, 16.00-18.00

Salience is usually treated as either an irrational or as an a-rational influence. Salience based decision making, thus, is often described as “biased”. In this paper, I argue that it is a mistake to treat salience as either outside the scope of rational evaluation or as a distortion of rationality. I argue that there is an important species of rational warrant, a rational entitlement, that is distinct from possessing reasons. We have such a rational entitlement to rely on our psychological salience system. The relevant rational entitlement forms a basic attention norm, i.e. we have a basic rational entitlement to focus more attention on what is more salient to us in a specific situation. I provide three arguments for this conclusion:  a pragmatic argument, an argument from well-functioning, and an argument from the phenomenal force of salience. These arguments are mutually re- enforcing. While the salience system, thus, can be coopted by irrational processes or the agent may know that her environment is not as it should be, those cases those cases can be rationally treated by the agent as the exception rather than the rule. Our rational entitlement to focus attention on what is salient to us is more fundamental than what is going on in cases where salience distorts rational decision making.The upshot of this paper forms part of a more general case for a right to have a basic level of trust in our own situated agency.

The meeting will take place online, using zoom. The login-details can be found on the research forum’s elearning site site.

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