Ethics as Social Science

Ethics as Social Science

The Moral Philosophy of Social Cooperation

New Thinking in Political Economy series

Leland B. Yeager

With this important book, esteemed economist Leland B. Yeager grounds moral and political philosophy in the requirements of a well-functioning society, one whose members reap the gains from peaceful cooperation while pursuing their own diverse goals.

Chapter 5: What Counts as Utility?

Leland B. Yeager

Subjects: economics and finance, austrian economics, political economy, public choice theory, politics and public policy, political economy, public choice


IS HAPPINESS THE SAME AS SATISFACTION OF DESIRES? Does the utilitarian value judgment favor the actual happiness of individuals or, if there is a difference, favor satisfying whatever desires or preferences individuals may currently happen to have? Although one answer to this question may sound ominous, neither answer has any direct policy implications. (I am not about to advocate imposing happiness on recalcitrant subjects.) Anyway, if gratifying their actual desires would in fact make people miserable because their desires had been based on misinformation or warped by an extreme short-run outlook or were otherwise ill-considered, should philosophers nevertheless applaud such counterproductive gratification? Philosophers are unlikely, of course, to know in advance that gratifying desires would bring misery and overriding them bring happiness. Still, clarity of thought requires facing the issue. One might object that assessing two versions of a fundamental value judgment against each other is pointless because such judgments, by their very meaning, can have no reasons offered for them. Two versions of utilitarianism, with their somewhat different underlying intuitions, simply stand in contrast. Strictly speaking, this objection is valid, but only against the way I have phrased the issue so far. Actually, the issue is discussible because a judgment that appears fundamental may turn out, under examination, not to be so (recall Sidney Alexander’s remarks, cited in Chapter 2). Discussion may sharpen the intuition on which a seemingly fundamental value judgment rests. THE ENDOGENEITY OF PREFERENCES Paradoxes arise from the endogeneity of preferences - their responsiveness to experience,...

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