desfase? –gap?

Cando collemos un manual calquera de Economía no que se fale de benestar e da súa relación coa utilidade, ou do utilitarismo como corrente filosófica que estivo detrás do benestarismo, ou da relación entre os valores propios –as valoracións sobre as cousas, incluso na súa máis prosaica materialidade-… dánsenos moi masticadiñas. Non só iso, e estou a falar todo o tempo de impresións persoais miñas, dásenos unha versión da filosofía utilitarista -e as súas proximidades- que non ten moito que ver co que se está a discutir hoxe entre os filósofos utilitaristas. Algúns dos máis prominentes son moi críticos que xeito de implementar e de representar os valores que asociamos ao benestar, son críticos algúns destes pensadores -a maioría anglosaxóns- co xeito no que abordamos as cuestións éticas en Economía. Agora que comezo a ler algo sobre o tema é a primeira vez que teño noticia diso: non están mudos, xordos, e/ou cegos os filósofos utilitaristas -e asimilados-.

Xa trouxen algo de Broome, hoxe tócalle a Griffin. Máis que cita aporte un tanto extenso: por se interesa. Atentos ás dúas citas, sobre todo á primeira.

Libro: Interpersonal comparisons of well-being.

(Elster and Roemer Ed.)

Against the Taste Model (páxinas 46, 47 e 48.)

James Griffin

The Taste Model.

There are two influential models of how desire and value are related. The Perception Model gives priority to value: desired because valuable. That is, we judge or recognize something to be valuable and therefore form a desire for it. The Taste Model reserves the priority: valuable because desired. That is, given the sort of biological and psychological creatures we are, our desires come to fix on certain objects, which thereby acquire value.

Both models employ the commonplace separation of a rational side of human nature (judgment, understanding, perception) from an attitudinal side (feeling, sentiment, desire, will). One can see these attitudes either as part of a universally distributed human nature or as varying a lot between people. No doubt there is some truth in both of these views, and it is a matter of emphasis. But it is common (and, many would say, empirically plausible) to give the Taste Model the second emphasis, and I shall do that.

As these two models show, we ought to be alert to two different sorts of preferences. Clearly, we form preferences between objects. On the Perception Model, thought, I form a (derivative) preference between two options only after having independently decided on their value. No doubt some preference is like that. But on the Taste Model, desire is the basis of value. On that model I form (basic) preferences for one option over another, not derived from any independent ranking of them, just because I want the the first more than the second.

The Taste Model is widespread in philosophy and, even more, in social sciences1.

p. 46.

I also think that it distorts our understanding, and I want to argue against it. But in order to be against the Taste Model, one does not have to be in favor of the Perception Model. For instance, one might instead think that there is no priority between value and desire. And one might think that the Humean distinction between reason and desire is too sharp.

  1. Some of its history.

Hume explains all value –aesthetic, moral, prudential- on the Taste Model. He sees reason as inert, able merely to inform us of how things stand; motivation and action come only from our conative response to those things.

Kant follows Hume on prudence but emphatically refuses to do so on morality. Many think –I am one of them- that there are good reasons to reject the Taste Model form moral values. Kant’s reasons are these. We all want to be happy. But what would make us happy depends upon our particular desires, interests, inclinations, and dispositions. But they are the result of such contingencies as our biological make-up, the era into which we happen to have been born, the influence of our parents, and so on. They all operate on the phenomenal level; they grow and get shaped entirely within the causal nexus. And we, so long as we are seen just on the level of desires, aims, and inclinations, are purely phenomenal selves, determined by things external to us – in Kant’s terms heteronomous. What happens to us on that level is brute fact. It therefore offers no place for anything the standing of a moral agent. We rise to the level of morality only when we manage to be autonomous, only when our actions are governed, not by contingencies, but by self-given law. To be autonomous, Kant says, is “to be independent of determination by causes in the sensible world.”

What I want to single out in this brief exegesis is that Kant is quite clearly employing the Taste Model for many prudential values (for happiness), but uses something like the Perception Model for moral values2. He stresses how varied persons’ conceptions of happiness are indeed so varied that is hard to see how to avoid another person’s compelling me to be happy on his conception of welfare.

Confining the Taste Model to prudential values is widespread in contemporary philosophy. Rawls is strikingly like Kant in this respect. Rawls treats our goals and aims as a matter of our psychology –in the end, the desires we come to have. When he talks about how a rational person chooses ends, this is the language he uses: A person’s “rational plan” is the one he would be satisfied, if he reflected properly, “would best realize his more fundamental desires.” Rawls concern, it is true, is with a person’s rational, not actual, desires, and there are important questions, to which I shall soon return, about how strong a requirement “rational” has to be and about when it becomes too strong to be kept within the confines of the Taste Model. But Rawls seems not to leave those confines; he speaks of “deliberative rationality” in terms of a person’s learning “the general features of his wants and ends both present and future” and “what the person really wants,” and of forms of “criticizing our ends which may often help us to estimate the relative intensity of our desires.” In sum, our prudential values express out contingent appetitive nature; our moral values, on the other hand, express our nature as autonomous persons.

Rawls’ views seem to me typical of current thought: reject the Taste Model for moral values but retain it for prudential values. The Humean tradition is still vigorous. But I doubt that the Taste Model explains prudential values either.

1[…] The following two passages represent what I take to be common (typical?) views in economics. “Our basic theory assumes that, for all the alternative consumption bundles he could conceivably face, the individuals ha a preference ordering. This reflects his tastes… from the opportunities available to him he does the best he can, best being defined according to his tastes”. (P.R.G. Layard and A. A. Walters, Micro-Economic Theory, New York, MacGraw-Hill, 1978, p. 124). “The utility of choice states that the choice in any given situation depends on the interaction of the externally given obstacles [i.e., income and prices] with the tastes of the individual… The utility theory asserts, more precisely, that the states can be represented by an ordering according to preference of all conceivable alternatives” (J.K. Arrow, “Utility and Expectation in Economic Behavior,” in Collected Papers of Kenneth Arrow, vol. 3, Oxford

2I am perhaps stretching the Perception Model in including Kant. “Perception” suggests detection or recognition of the presence of (moral) properties, and Kant is not a moral realist. Morality, for him, is a rational requirement, and so objective in that sense, but not in the sense that there are moral “objects” existing independently of human thought and reaction. Still, “perception” can be taken without strain to include Kant: One perceives or recognizes a rational requirement.

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2 Responses to “desfase? –gap?”


  1. 1 Manuel 05/03/2010 at 15:11

    Despois de varios intentos fallidos (cousas do Facebook) por fin conseguín entrar neste blog. Ánimo e que non decaiga.

    A cuestión do desfase entre disciplinas especializadas é hoxe un feito prácticamente universal e unha cuestión ca que deben lidiar todos os investigadores/intelectuais que por vocación ou necesidade desexan utilizar enfoques interdisciplinares. No caso concreto que mencionas, o desfase foi un tema candente en Economía nos anos 50, resolto ca admisión de derrota por parte dos “welfaristas” (un clásico é o prefacio/manifesto de J.R. Hicks ao seu volume de 1959 “Ensayos sobre Economía Mundial”). O desenvolvemento do debate atópase descrito en moitos dos traballos non técnicos de Amartya K. Sen. A reacción dos economistas aos seus resultados foi a típica: redefinición pragmática dos obxectivos da disciplina en termos máis específicos e, polo tanto, máis modestos. O resultado é que as cuestións que hoxe aborda a Economía do Benestar son de tipo moito máis técnico e alcance moitísimo máis limitado (un bó exemplo recente atópase no artigo de M. Fleurbacy no nº de decembro 2009 do Journal of Economic Literature respecto das medidas alternativas ao PIB), moitas ordes de magnitude por debaixo do grao de xeralidade que manexa a filosofía contemporánea.


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