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Normal Rationality

Normal Rationality is a selection of the most important work of Edna Ullmann-Margalit, presenting some influential and widely admired essays alongside some that are not well known. She was an unorthodox and deeply original philosopher whose work illuminated the largest mysteries of human life. Much of her writing focuses on two fundamental questions. (1) How do people proceed when they cannot act on the basis of reasons, or project likely consequences? (2) How is social order possible? Ullmann-Margalit's answers, emphasizing what might be called biased rationality, are important not only for philosophy, but also for political science, psychology, sociology, cognitive science, economics (including behavioral economics), law, and even public policy. Ullmann-Margalit demonstrates that people have identifiable strategies for making difficult decisions, whether the question is small (what to buy at a supermarket) or big (whether to transform one's life in some large-scale way). She also shows that social dilemmas are solved by norms; that invisible-hand explanations take two identifiable (and dramatically different) forms; that trust can emerge in seemingly unpromising situations; and that considerateness is the foundation on which our relationships are organized in both the thin context of the public space and the intimate context of the family. One of the distinguishing features of Ullmann-Margalit's work is its close attention to the details of human experience, and its use of those details to offer fresh understandings of social phenomena. Her essays cast new light on a diverse assortment of problems in philosophy, social science, and individual lives.
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About the Author

Edna Ullmann-Margalit was Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and Director of the Center for the Study of Rationality. She was also Chair of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. She published The Emergence of Norms with Oxford University Press in 1977; a paperback edition was issued in 2016. Avishai Margalit is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His books include The Decent Society (Harvard 1996) and On Compromise and Rotten Compromises (Princeton 2010). Cass R. Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard, and founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy. From 2009 to 2012, he was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.


Throughout the book, Ullmann-Margalit provides rich and varied, but life-like and plausible examples. These motivate her brilliant, wide-ranging insights and support her arguments; but they are also strewn throughout the texts as interesting asides. The reader is thus left with the impression of someone who saw the philosophical significance of much of everyday life, as well as the importance of reflecting philosophically on our lives if we wish to live them well and rationally. Inadvertently, then, the reader is left with a vision of how to live a philosophical life - a fitting tribute to a philosopher who was deeply engaged in humanitarian and social justice causes throughout her own life. * Richard Pettigrew, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews *

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