Self-Defeating Symbolism in Politics

The article examines the rationality of persons who support public policies in the name of principles that would be frustrated should those policies be enacted. It shows that, contrary to what Robert Nozick and others have claimed, the behavior of those agents need not be explained by appealing to symbolic rationality. Instead, it can be explained by standard theories of rationality. Self-defeating political agents typically value their symbolizing, not the symbolized value. The authors distinguish several different cases of self-defeating political agents and suggest that their behavior is better understood by assuming their ignorance, error, or posturing than their concern for symbolized values.

Fernando R. Tesón
Published in: Journal of Philosophy
2001 98