Taking Reasons Seriously: Containing Arbitrary Power by Cheap Talk

Vesco Paskalev (Brunel University London)


Giving reasons is ubiquitous in the decision-making yet on the standard rationalist theory, such talk is cheap and should have all but disappeared. In this paper I show how public discourse may actually constrain behaviour. I develop a semi-formal model of sequential decision making, where the participants are forced to declare reasons for the adoption of certain position. Even if the agents are free to interpret the facts and the causal relationships as they see fit once such statements are made publicly the agents remain committed to them. As the British Prime Minister Liz Trust just learned to her peril, it is costly to opportunistically forswear a previously declared reason, so with the number of such reasons growing in time, the actors are (1) increasingly bound by their cheap statements towards certain course of actions and (2) their acts are open to contestations (on the basis of new facts). Further, when there are two public speakers, the commitment of one to a certain set of past statements may force him or her to agree with the opponent. This suggest that it is plausible to expect that the agent may be forced to act against his or her own ‘raw’ (i.e. pre-discoursive) preferences.

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