This chapter analyses the behavioural economist Matthew Rabin's work on biases in decision-making. Rabin argues that these biases cause self-harm and that we should tax individuals to ensure that they do not give in to these biases. The chapter's core question is whether there is a soft-paternalistic justification for these taxes. The answer is nuanced. It argues that Rabin’s description of these biases as “irrational” is not always appropriate—sometimes, for example, they are merely a form of preference change. When they (...) are due to the latter, the behaviour is fully voluntary, and there exists no soft-paternalistic justification for coercive intervention. It also argues that even when these biases do lead to substantially non-voluntary choices, we should prefer policies that improve self-knowledge and self-control to taxes. However, the paper notes that Rabin’s analysis reveals circumstances under which these autonomy-enhancing strategies will not be effective. In such cases, and only in such cases, Rabin’s taxes have a soft paternalistic justification. (shrink)
Policy-makers must sometimes choose between an alternative which has somewhat lower expected value for each person, but which will substantially improve the outcomes of the worst off, or an alternative which has somewhat higher expected value for each person, but which will leave those who end up worst off substantially less well off. The popular ex ante Pareto principle requires the choice of the alternative with higher expected utility for each. We argue that ex ante Pareto ought to be rejected (...) because it conflicts with the requirement that, when possible, one ought to decide as one would with full information. We apply our argument in an analysis of US policy on screening for breast cancer. (shrink)
The difference between the unity of the individual and the separateness of persons requires that there be a shift in the moral weight that we accord to changes in utility when we move from making intrapersonal tradeoffs to making interpersonal tradeoffs. We examine which forms of egalitarianism can, and which cannot, account for this shift. We argue that a form of egalitarianism which is concerned only with the extent of outcome inequality cannot account for this shift. We also argue that (...) a view which is concerned with both outcome inequality and with the unfairness of inequality in individuals‘ expected utilities can account for this shift. Finally, we limn an alternative view, on.. (shrink)
Experimental results on the Ellsberg paradox typically reveal behavior that is commonly interpreted as ambiguity aversion. The experiments reported in the current paper find the objective probabilities for drawing a red ball that make subjects indifferent between various risky and uncertain Ellsberg bets. They allow us to examine the predictive power of alternative principles of choice under uncertainty, including the objective maximin and Hurwicz criteria, the sure-thing principle, and the principle of insufficient reason. Contrary to our expectations, the principle of (...) insufficient reason performed substantially better than rival theories in our experiment, with ambiguity aversion appearing only as a secondary phenomenon. (shrink)
We analyse three moral dilemmas involving resource allocation in care for HIV-positive patients. Ole Norheim and Kjell Arne Johansson have argued that these cases reveal a tension between egalitarian concerns and concerns for better population health. We argue, by contrast, that these cases reveal a tension between, on the one hand, a concern for equal *chances*, and, on the other hand, both a concern for better health and an egalitarian concern for equal *outcomes*. We conclude that, in these cases, there (...) is much less tension than Norheim and Johansson claim between egalitarian concerns and concerns for better population health. (shrink)
In 'Why It Matters that Some Are Worse off than Others,' we offer a new critique of the Priority View. In a recent article, Roger Crisp has argued that our critique is flawed. In this reply Crisp, we show that Crisp fails to grapple with, much less defeat, the central claim of our critique. We also show that an example that Crisp offers in support of the Priority View in fact lends support to our critique of that view.
Can we ever truly answer the question, “Who am I?” Moderated by Alex Voorhoeve (London School of Economics), neuro-philosopher Elie During (University of Paris, Ouest Nanterre), cognitive scientist David Jopling (York University, Canada), social psychologist Timothy Wilson (University of Virginia),and ethicist Frances Kamm (Harvard University) examine the difficulty of achieving genuine self-knowledge and how the pursuit of self-knowledge plays a role in shaping the self.
Can we trust our intuitive judgments of right and wrong? Are moral judgements objective? What reason do we have to do what is right and avoid doing what is wrong? In Conversations on Ethics, Alex Voorhoeve elicits answers to these questions from eleven outstanding philosophers and social scientists: Ken Binmore; Philippa Foot; Harry Frankfurt; Allan Gibbard; Daniel Kahneman; Frances Kamm; Alasdair MacIntyre; T. M. Scanlon; Peter Singer; David Velleman; Bernard Williams. The exchanges are direct, open, and sharp, and give a (...) clear account of these thinkers' core ideas about ethics. They also provide unique insights into their intellectual development - how they became interested in ethics, and how they conceived the ideas for which they became famous. Conversations on Ethics will engage anyone interested in moral philosophy. (shrink)
In On Liberty, Mill famously propounded a view of the good life as the autonomous life. On this view, it is crucial that people develop and exercise, to a high degree, their ability to reason independently about what to believe and what to aim at in life. It is also important that they be able to freely hold and express their beliefs and effectively act on their aims. As Mill put it: The mental and the moral, like the muscular, powers (...) are improved only by being used. ... He who lets the world ... choose his plan of life for him has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan of life for himself ... must use observation to see, reasoning and judgment to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold his deliberate decision. And these qualities he requires and exercises exactly in proportion as the part of his conduct which he determines according to his own judgment and feelings.... It is possible that he may be guided in some good path ... without any of these things. But what will be his comparative worth as a human being? (p. 56). Two of Mill’s arguments for familiar liberal rights—which include children’s right to a decent education, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, and freedom of association— appeal to this ideal of autonomy. First, these rights are generally crucial for establishing the conditions under which people can freely make up their own minds about what to believe and how to live, and to act accordingly. Second, a society that respected these rights would, Mill thought, be more likely to have a vibrant public culture, in which divergent opinions and lifestyles lead to a ‘generally high scale of mental activity’, which together ‘raise even persons of the most ordinary intellect to something of the dignity of thinking beings’ (p. 33). (shrink)
Brian Barry believed liberals should not follow Mill in appealing to the value of autonomy in order to justify liberal rights. Barry believed the basic liberal aim was to find social and political institutions that could be justified to citizens who held differing views about the good life as a fair way of adjudicating between these citizens’ conflicting interests and conceptions of the good.
Stuart Rachels and Larry Temkin have offered a purported counter-example to the acyclicity of the relationship 'all things considered better than'. This example invokes our intuitive preferences over pairs of alternatives involving a single person's painful experiences of varying intensity and duration. These preferences, Rachels and Temkin claim, are confidently held, entirely reasonable, and cyclical. They conclude that we should drop acyclicity as a requirement of rationality. I argue that, together with the findings of recent research on the way people (...) evaluate episodes of pain, the use of a heuristic known as similarity-based decision-making explains why our intuitive preferences may violate acyclicity in this example. I argue that this explanation should lead us to regard these preferences with suspicion, because it indicates that they may be the result of one or more biases. I conclude that Rachels' and Temkin's example does not provide sufficient grounds for rejecting acyclicity. Key Words: acyclicity • rationality • similarity-based decision-making • heuristics and biases • pain evaluation. (shrink)
What is the appropriate legal response to terrorist threats? This question is discussed by politician Tony McWalter, The Philosophers' Magazine editor Julian Baggini, and philosophers Catherine Audard, Saladin Meckled-Garcia, and Alex Voorhoeve.
This paper provides an introductory discussion of questions about three moral duties in the context of global poverty: the duty to aid; the duty not to harm; and the duty to promote just global institutions.
In The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that only a form of philosophising that sprung from a deep commitment to the subject could ever hope for success. ‘All great problems’, he wrote, ‘demand great love’. He continued: It makes the most telling difference whether a thinker has a personal relationship to his problems and finds in them his destiny, his distress and his greatest happiness, or an ‘impersonal’ one, meaning he is only able to touch them with the antennae of (...) cold, curious thought. In the latter case nothing will come of it, that much can be promised; for even if great problems should let themselves be grasped by them, they would not allow frogs and weaklings to hold on to them. Nietzsche went on to complain that, to his knowledge, no one had yet approached moral philosophy in this way: Why, then, have I never yet encountered anyone, not even in books, who approached morality in this personal way and who knew morality as a problem, and this problem as his own personal distress, torment, voluptuousness, and passion? No one familiar with Frances Kamm’s work in moral philosophy could share Nietzsche’s complaint. In her two-volume Morality, Mortality and in her other work in moral theory and applied ethics, Kamm meticulously and imaginatively analyses moral cases in order to gain insight into our fundamental moral concepts and principles. The tenacity with which she pursues this 1 aim springs from her personal engagement with the issues she investigates—an engagement reflected in her dedication of the second volume of Morality, Mortality to ‘the love of morality’. At the centre of Kamm’s work lie her development and defence of a nonconsequentialist ethical theory. Consequentialism holds that the rightness or wrongness of our conduct is determined solely by the expected goodness or badness of the consequences of our acts or of the rules to which these acts conform. According to consequentialism, to act rightly is to act in ways that bring about the best possible expected consequences.. (shrink)
Suppose that we agree that for questions of justice in a pluralistic society, we need a public standard of welfare. An appropriate public standard of welfare will have to meet the following two requirements. First, its conception of each person’s welfare should, to the greatest reasonable extent, be something that each person can recognise as encompassing the things she wants for herself and as giving these things weights that reflect the relative importance she gives to them. Second, it should be (...) sensitive to the fact that reasonable people hold conflicting conceptions of what constitutes an individual’s welfare. It should therefore, to the greatest reasonable extent, respect neutrality of judgement by refraining from endorsing any particular conception of welfare as superior to any other. In an influential set of essays, Richard Arneson (1990a, 1990b, 1990c) has argued that the following conception of welfare is ideally suited to these requirements: equate each individual’s welfare with the degree of satisfaction of her ideally rational, self-regarding preferences. These are the preferences she would have on behalf of herself if she were to engage in ideally extended deliberation with full pertinent information, in a calm mood, while thinking clearly and making no reasoning errors (see Arneson 1990a, pp. 162-163). (For simplicity, in what follows, I will use the term ‘preferences’, to refer to these ideally rational, self-regarding preferences.) Arneson argues that this standard of welfare meets the two aforementioned requirements in the best way possible. It meets the first requirement, he argues, because it comes as close as. (shrink)
The Complaint Model is an interpretation of Scanlon’s contractualism which holds that (1) an individual can reasonably reject a distribution of well-being when her complaint against that distribution is larger than any other person’s complaint against any other distribution. The Complaint Model further holds that (2) the size of an individual’s complaint against a distribution is a function of (2a) her absolute level of well-being under that distribution, with the size of her complaint increasing as her absolute level of well-being (...) decreases, and (2b) the size of her loss in well-being under that distribution relative to the level of well-being she could have enjoyed under the distribution most favourable to her, with the size of her complaint increasing as her loss increases. In this paper, I argue that the Complaint Model should be rejected, because the way in which it takes individuals’ losses into account leads to strongly counterintuitive results. In particular, I show that the Complaint Model may sacrifice the well-being associated with the least-well-off, secondleast-well-off, etc. positions for the sake of minimizing the largest complaint. I also argue that revisions to element (1) to allow for the aggregation of complaints must either leave the Complaint Model vulnerable to this objection or lead it to collapse into prioritarianism. The failure of the Complaint Model may lead us to search for an alternative way of taking losses into account. I conclude by arguing that the attractiveness of the Anonymous Pareto principle poses a challenge to any such alternative. (shrink)
A persistent argument against the transitivity assumption of rational choice theory postulates a repeatable action that generates a significant benefit at the expense of a negligible cost. No matter how many times the action has been taken, it therefore seems reasonable for a decision-maker to take the action one more time. However, matters are so fixed that the costs of taking the action some large number of times outweigh the benefits. In taking the action some large number of times on (...) the grounds that the benefits outweigh the costs every time, the decision-maker therefore reveals intransitive preferences, since once she has taken it this large number of times, she would prefer to return to the situation in which she had never taken the action at all. We defend transitivity against two versions of this argument: one in which it is assumed that taking the action one more time never has any perceptible cost, and one in which it is assumed that the cost of taking the action, though (sometimes) perceptible, is so small as to be outweighed at every step by the significant benefit. We argue that the description of the choice situation in the first version involves a contradiction. We also argue that the reasoning used in the second version is a form of similarity-based decision-making. We argue that when the consequences of using similarity-based decision-making are brought to light, rational decision-makers revise their preferences. We also discuss one method that might be used in performing this revision. (shrink)
This thesis argues that a particular version of equal opportunity for welfare is the best way of meeting the joint demands of three liberal egalitarian ideals: distributional equality, responsibility, and respect for individuals’ differing reasonable judgements of their own good. It also examines which social choice rules best represent these demands. Finally, it defends the view that achieving equal opportunity for welfare should not only be a goal of formal public institutions, but that just citizens should also sometimes be guided (...) by it in their everyday life. The version of equal opportunity for welfare it defends differs from some well-known contemporary versions in the following ways. First, it rejects a definition of welfare as the degree of satisfaction of a person’s preferences, because, it argues, this conception of welfare cannot adequately deal with preference change. Instead, it suggests that we should adopt a conception of welfare based on a list of goods and conditions that are recognised as valuable from the perspective of a variety of different conceptions of the good. Second, it argues that individuals’ prima facie claim to an equally valuable share of the world’s resources—a claim which is based on their equal moral worth—is limited to situations in which giving one person a more valuable share means that someone else ends up with a less valuable share. It also argues that in situations where we can improve at least one person’s situation without worsening anyone else’s, we generally do not fail to respect each person’s equal moral worth by doing so, even if this leads to inequalities. Third, it defends a distinct view of responsibility, which justifies social arrangements that give people certain options with reference to the value that individuals can achieve (but don’t necessarily achieve) through their choices from these options. (shrink)
Philippe van Parijs (2003) has argued that an egalitarian ethos cannot be part of a post- Political Liberalism Rawlsian view of justice, because the demands of political justice are confined to principles for institutions of the basic structure alone. This paper argues, by contrast, that certain principles for individual conduct—including a principle requiring relatively advantaged individuals to sometimes make their economic choices with the aim of maximising the prospects of the least advantaged—are an integral part of a Rawlsian political conception (...) of justice. It concludes that incentive payments will have a clearly limited role in a Rawlsian theory of justice. (shrink)
All conceptions of equal opportunity draw on some distinction between morally justified and unjustified inequalities. We discuss how this distinction varies across a range of philosophical positions. We find that these positions often advance equality of opportunity in tandem with distributive principles based on merit, desert, consequentialist criteria or individuals' responsibility for outcomes. The result of this amalgam of principles is a festering controversy that unnecessarily diminishes the widespread acceptability of opportunity concerns. We therefore propose to restore the conceptual separation (...) of opportunity principles concerning unjustified inequalities from distributive principles concerning justifiable inequalities. On this view, equal opportunity implies that that morally irrelevant factors should engender no differences in individuals' attainment, while remaining silent on inequalities due to morally relevant factors. We examine this idea by introducing the principle of ‘opportunity dominance' and explore in a simple application to what extent this principle may help us arbitrate between opposing distributive principles. We also compare this principle to the selection rules developed by John Roemer and Dirk Van de Gaer. (shrink)
The political and philosophical problems John Rawls set out to solve arise out of the identity and conflicts of interests between citizens. There is identity of interests because social cooperation makes possible for everyone a life that is much better than one outside of society. There is a conflict of interests because people all prefer a larger to a smaller share of the benefits of social cooperation, and people have ideological differences. The problem a theory of justice has to solve (...) is how, in the face of these conflicts, effective social cooperation can come about on terms that are justifiable to all. (shrink)
This article criticises one of Stuart Rachels' and Larry Temkin's arguments against the transitivity of 'better than'. This argument invokes our intuitions about our preferences of different bundles of pleasurable or painful experiences of varying intensity and duration, which, it is argued, will typically be intransitive. This article defends the transitivity of 'better than' by showing that Rachels and Temkin are mistaken to suppose that preferences satisfying their assumptions must be intransitive. It makes cler where the argument goes wrong by (...) showing that it is a version of Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise. (shrink)
Philosophy of Science is a mid-level text for students with some grounding in philosophy. It introduces the questions that drive enquiry in the philosophy of science, and aims to educate readers in the main positions, problems and arguments in the field today. Alex Rosenberg is certainly well qualified to write such an introduction. His works cover a large area of the philosophy of natural and social sciences. In addition, the author of the argument that the ‘queen of the social sciences’, (...) economics, is not a science at all, can be counted on to show how the philosophy of science can be relevant to the understanding of the status of scientific knowledge and can provide a critical assessment of practitioners’ view of their field. (shrink)