chapter  3
39 Pages

Building an Instrumentally Rational Agent

ByMark Okrent

Any animal that is capable of behaviorist learning through experience can in a sense correct learned errors of classification through the mechanism of having additional experience, of course. Some animals are also capable of correcting their learned errors, their mistakes of classification as well as their mistakes of application, in a different way. These are the genuinely instrumentally rational animals, the agents that have beliefs and desires, and who can act because of these beliefs and desires. This chapter articulates the structure of this instrumental rationality. The kind of instrumental rationality demonstrated by New Caledonian crows, but also exemplified by a range of other non-human animals, including primates, canines, felines, cetaceans, and a variety of bird species, marks the threshold of genuine responsiveness to norms. Rationally connected beliefs and desires in instrumentally rational animals also gives them an additional ability that is lacking in non-rational critters that are only capable of associative learning.