University of Sussex
King,_Scott_Benjamin.pdf (5.53 MB)
Download file

Rationality under fire: the incorporation of emotion into rational choice

Download (5.53 MB)
posted on 2023-06-08, 21:50 authored by Scott Benjamin King
We are told that as many as 75% of soldiers did not return fire during World War II. Though there is some historical truth in this claim, what should be of greater interest is the controversy around it. The idea that would we do nothing in great physical danger, especially when there no cost to fight, challenges the very notion of what it means to be a rational human. As such, this thesis is less about the phenomena of combat passivity, than it is about the challenge it presents to rational choice theory, a challenge that it cannot survive. That we do not choose according to outcome but according to how we think we will feel is hardly a new idea. In its current state, however, emotion remains an irreducible 'black-­-box' for social theory, with terms like 'fear' and 'regret' being both ill-­-defined and culturally loaded. Drawing from a number of fields including therapeutic psychology, anthropology and the philosophy of emotion, this thesis proposes the precept cognito ergo sentio. Our thoughts always produce feelings. Even if we do not name them emotions, we choose based on these. This manifests in two reproducible ways: via schemas -­- whether or not an event or object or experience or person 'fits' -­- and by assignation, whether the self or other is, or will be, to blame for a schemic violation (or completion). This approach explains both irrational and rational choice, as well as the way in which we can imagine future feeling states within anticipated scenarios. In the case of violence and passivity, we will examine three such invocations: schemic breaks (lack of fit, or 'fear'), causal assignation of the self (or 'shame'), and causal assignation of the external (or 'anger'). Each of these thinking modalities generates a feeling which in turn determines a choice in the individual, whether to fight, freeze, slaughter, surrender or even break down.


File Version

  • Published version



Department affiliated with

  • Philosophy Theses

Qualification level

  • masters

Qualification name

  • mphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

Full text available

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Theses)


    No categories selected