The first issue concerns the effect a robust, non-reductive understanding of love and caring has on our understanding of practical rationality: our ability to figure out how best to act. According to rational choice theory—the conception of practical rationality that shapes the belief-desire model of psychology that is prominent in philosophy and orthodox in the “hard” social sciences—a rational choice is one that maximizes the satisfaction of a person’s preferences in accordance with instrumental rationality. Consequently many researchers think any emotional involvement in making decisions can only be irrational. (For such a claim in the context of experimental economics, see, e.g., Yamagishi, et al. 2009.) However, as Damasio’s work has demonstrated, in patients whose reasoning about maximization of preferences is fully intact, deficits in emotional capacities coincide with dramatic deficits in decision-making. Damasio’s alternative is to understand the crucial role of emotions in decision making as that of alerting us to what is important and thus being instrumentally useful to our decision processes. Yet we have argued for a more radical conclusion: if the theoretical role of desire in belief-desire psychology is understood simply in terms of instrumental rationality, then we have not yet understood what it is for something to be worthwhile to the agent in a way that can make sense of the activity as meaningful or purposeful; doing so, rather, requires appealing to notions of love and caring. For by recognizing that our agency essentially involves caring, with its characteristic rational structures of emotions, we enrich our account of practical reasoning far beyond the maximizing conception of rational choice theory (Nussbaum 1990; Helm 2001; Seidman forthcoming). The resulting view of agency is a radical departure from the pervasive belief-desire model, and as such provides conceptual resources to reinterpret the results of empirical work on rationality and decision making, while simultaneously itself being susceptible to empirical challenge. It also opens up further questions about how a person’s loving someone or caring about something should shape his deliberation about what to do (Helm 2010, forthcoming-a).

Next: Morality