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  #1  
Old 05-06-2010, 05:09 PM
Bloggingheads Bloggingheads is offline
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Default Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

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  #2  
Old 05-06-2010, 10:46 PM
hamandcheese hamandcheese is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

It sounds interesting but I hope this isn't another "Animal Spirits", Akerlof's (with Thaler) last pamphlet of poorly argued, dryly written, overstated, general-theory nit-pickery.

I admit this sounds much more promising. The idea that psychology affects economies was no where near as revolutionizing or grand-unifying as AS tried to make it sound. But at least an economic discussion of identity is more original.

The military is I think a perfect example. There are, of course, no external incentives to jump on a hand grenade.
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  #3  
Old 05-06-2010, 11:27 PM
Swamymaximus Swamymaximus is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Sounds like an amazingly squishy, soft-brained and PC book.

For one thing, if you aren't willing to control for IQ when looking at disparities of group earnings, you aren't even trying to tell the truth.
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  #4  
Old 05-06-2010, 11:30 PM
kezboard kezboard is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Quote:
Sounds like an amazingly squishy, soft-brained and PC book.
Sounds like dkschwartz.
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  #5  
Old 05-07-2010, 10:04 AM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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Default Identity Economics

Geek Will enumerates a taxonomy of Bloggingheads

Last edited by Simon Willard; 05-07-2010 at 08:33 PM..
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  #6  
Old 05-07-2010, 10:23 AM
rfrobison rfrobison is offline
 
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Default Loose the beard

Would somebody with some real pull PLEASE advise Mr. Wilkinson to shave off that scruffy beard? Please.
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  #7  
Old 05-07-2010, 12:17 PM
Stapler Malone Stapler Malone is offline
 
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Default Re: Loose the beard

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Originally Posted by rfrobison View Post
Would somebody with some real pull....
There is exactly one person who has any hope of accomplishing that. Start your lobbying.
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  #8  
Old 05-07-2010, 03:24 PM
BornAgainDemocrat BornAgainDemocrat is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

How quickly Bloggingheads commenters tend to get sidetracked into their own private discussions, quoting each other and ignoring the actual substance of the diavlog! Personally I think it is annoyingly bad manners, and I wish management, as a change in policy, would redirect these private threads from the front page to the forum. Are there others out there who agree? If so, now is your time to be heard.

As for this particular diavlog, I thought it was fascinating. Will does a good job of drawing Rachel out, and Rachel does a good job describing her work. A few random observations:

1. How does this new subfield "behavioral economics" differ from traditional "institutional economics"? Are female economist disproportionately drawn to it? If so, that would be an interesting example of identity economics.

2. I notice Rachel redirects the discussion of the phenomenon of "stereotypical threat" away from the issue of race towards more artificial game theory simulations. could this be because the former is not well supported empirically? Anyway, her example reminded me of that Dr. Seuss story about "them that have stars."

3. I was surprised there was not more discussion of class, especially in prep schools and Ivy League colleges. The distinctions between lower, middle, and upper class students are socially salient, at least where my daughter went to school.

4. Concerning the range of gender identities, I thought it was an interesting observation that girls have more acceptable choices than boys, as in the example of "tom boys" vs. what? (They didn't say it, but I suppose they meant sissies.) In any event I can present a counter-example (for adults) from my own professional experience in the field of landscape and garden design. This use to be a perfectly normal male occupation, but over the past generation or two has morphed into a field dominated by male homosexuals, with females coming in second. No doubt there are other examples.

5. It is simply mistaken to assert the existence of "white privilege" in the fields of higher education and employment. The privileges run all the other way, though I will not belabor the point because it is so sensitive. White Protestants are only 15% of the Harvard student body.

6. Finally, about Obama and his book, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." Looking back it is now obvious that Obama's motive in publishing that book was to gain acceptance as an African American man on the South Side of Chicago. His ambition then was eventually to become the mayor of Chicago, but first he had to get elected to the state legislature as a representative of the South Side. Thus the book and Rev. Wright's church, and maybe the choice of a wife as well (Lincoln married for politics so let's not be too quick to condemn.)

The irony of course is that Obama is half white, in fact more than half white when we consider he was raised by his white mother and grandparents in a middle-class world far from these shores, and that his African half was not American at all (his father was an exchange student, not an immigrant).

Now, a generation later, he is struggling to re-establish the white half of his American identity, which he must do if he expects to be a successful president. After unfairly throwing his grandmother under the bus he is learning the hard way -- on the job -- to judge by the Skip Gates episode. It will be interesting how he adapts to the immigration issue in the period ahead.

I predict he will move away from the idea "comprehensive reform" towards "re-gaining control of the borders first" and a biometric ID as the only way to bring private employers to heel. Only then will there be a modified amnesty, with the numbers amnestied offset against legal immigration quotas.

Last edited by BornAgainDemocrat; 05-07-2010 at 03:48 PM..
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  #9  
Old 05-07-2010, 10:50 PM
Unit Unit is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Very Hayekian diavlog focusing on norms and social movements. However, I thought this analysis was a bit circular. So you need a social movement to get a new law, agreed, but what creates the social movement? In part, examples created by competition. Take for instance baseball: it integrated even before Jim Crow was finally repealed because it was profitable to do so, and that helped create the social movement.
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  #10  
Old 05-08-2010, 12:26 AM
rfrobison rfrobison is offline
 
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Default Re: Loose the beard

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Originally Posted by Stapler Malone View Post
There is exactly one person who has any hope of accomplishing that. Start your lobbying.
Wife? Girlfriend? Little Sister?
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  #11  
Old 05-08-2010, 12:43 AM
uncle ebeneezer uncle ebeneezer is offline
 
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Default Re: Incentive Structures

What do the Military and Bloggingheads have in common??
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  #12  
Old 05-08-2010, 02:35 AM
listener listener is offline
 
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Default Re: Incentive Structures

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Originally Posted by uncle ebeneezer View Post
What do the Military and Bloggingheads have in common??
Good catch. The observer is the observed.

I repeat -- uncle ebeneezer: undisputed master of the dingalink.
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Last edited by listener; 05-08-2010 at 04:21 AM..
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  #13  
Old 05-08-2010, 12:17 PM
nikkibong nikkibong is offline
 
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Default Re: Incentive Structures

Quote:
Originally Posted by listener View Post

I repeat -- uncle ebeneezer: undisputed master of the dingalink.
undisputed? er, no

http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/member.php?u=3009
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  #14  
Old 05-08-2010, 12:17 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Quote:
Originally Posted by BornAgainDemocrat View Post
6. Finally, about Obama and his book, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." Looking back it is now obvious that Obama's motive in publishing that book was to gain acceptance as an African American man on the South Side of Chicago. His ambition then was eventually to become the mayor of Chicago, but first he had to get elected to the state legislature as a representative of the South Side. Thus the book and Rev. Wright's church, and maybe the choice of a wife as well (Lincoln married for politics so let's not be too quick to condemn.)
This is less ridiculous than the claim that his parents, knowing he might want to be president one day had his birth announced in the Hawaiian papers, even though he was born in Kenya, but you are engaging in the same kind of argument from backwards causation when you say this is now "obvious."

I guess your view is possible -- if Obama always knew that he wanted to be a politician and that he would have a significant chance of becoming a successful one), then it's conceivable he might have written a whole book about his life with that in mind (thoughthe actual contents of the book don't seem like a good way of making himself seem more 'black' -- he picks fights with the more militant orthodoxy and talks a great deal about the white part of his family and Hawaii's relative freedom from racism, etc.). But it seems far more likely that Obama had several potential ambitions -- and being a writer was one of them. At a time in his life when he was becoming disaffected with community organizing and at a time when he was hoping to find a way to support a family, which organizing alone certainly couldn't do very well, the offer of a book contract basically fell into his lap. This, in fact, is more or less the story I find in Remnick's _The Bridge_, and I see no reason to dispute Remnick's story or to attribute the kind of cynical precognition to Obama that is required by your theory.

Regarding your opening remarks, I don't know that I entirely agree with you that people are being rude and should have their comments hidden, but I will say it's disappointing when a diavlog of this sort mostly garners comments about Will's beard etc. I hope to come back and say something about tastes, identities and values, topics seemingly central to this book, but I don't have the time right at the moment.
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  #15  
Old 05-08-2010, 01:08 PM
listener listener is offline
 
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Default Re: Incentive Structures

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Originally Posted by nikkibong View Post
ahh... those were all before my time. Thanks.
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  #16  
Old 05-08-2010, 11:55 PM
uncle ebeneezer uncle ebeneezer is offline
 
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Default Re: Incentive Structures

Listener, thanks for the compliment. I was pretty slow to catch on to the dingalink function but since I have, I think it is one of the coolest aspects of bhTv.
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  #17  
Old 05-09-2010, 03:42 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Quoting BornAgainDemocrat

Quote:
Concerning the range of gender identities, I thought it was an interesting observation that girls have more acceptable choices than boys, as in the example of "tom boys" vs. what? (They didn't say it, but I suppose they meant sissies.) In any event I can present a counter-example (for adults) from my own professional experience in the field of landscape and garden design. This use to be a perfectly normal male occupation, but over the past generation or two has morphed into a field dominated by male homosexuals, with females coming in second. No doubt there are other examples.
Hmmm.... interesting distinction between perfectly normal males and male homosexuals, not very politically correct in my estimation. But I bet the male homosexuals show up better dressed to give an estimate.

Quote:
Finally, about Obama and his book, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." Looking back it is now obvious that Obama's motive in publishing that book was to gain acceptance as an African American man on the South Side of Chicago. His ambition then was eventually to become the mayor of Chicago, but first he had to get elected to the state legislature as a representative of the South Side. Thus the book and Rev. Wright's church, and maybe the choice of a wife as well (Lincoln married for politics so let's not be too quick to condemn.)
Why would we condemn? Anyone who thinks that politicians (or anyone, for that matter) don't act for political reasons is irretrievably naive. This is what we do. The problem comes when we try to cloak it in some kind of virtue. Then everyone gets to laugh.

Quote:
I predict he will move away from the idea "comprehensive reform" towards "re-gaining control of the borders first" and a biometric ID as the only way to bring private employers to heel. Only then will there be a modified amnesty, with the numbers amnestied offset against legal immigration quotas.
This is almost exactly what Charles Krauthammer is proposing. Maybe Charlie is making midnight visits to the oval office or maybe your house?

Last edited by badhatharry; 05-09-2010 at 06:47 PM..
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  #18  
Old 05-09-2010, 03:57 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Quote:
Originally Posted by hamandcheese View Post
The idea that psychology affects economies was no where near as revolutionizing or grand-unifying as AS tried to make it sound.
Back in 1776, Adam Smith was expounding on how human psychology relates to economics.

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

And thus, place, that great object which divides the wives of aldermen, is the end of half the labors of human life; and is the cause of all the tumult and bustle, all the rapine and injustice

The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations.

Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.

Great ambition, the desire of real superiority, of leading and directing, seems to be altogether peculiar to man, and speech is the great instrument of ambition.

Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this - no dog exchanges bones with another.

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.

Last edited by badhatharry; 05-09-2010 at 04:20 PM..
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  #19  
Old 05-09-2010, 04:05 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/279...4:28&out=05:26

I think Rachel is right to say that standard decision theory treats people as having a given set of tastes. Decision theory seems to run together two quite different sorts of desire -- tastes (or aversions) and values -- and treat them as if they were all just tastes. I think she is right that this leaves something out, and that this something has to do with identity on the one hand and with debate and discussion on the other, but she doesn't get a lot clearer (from my point of view) about the disctinction. And I think she goes badly wrong when she seems to accept Will's suggestion above, that we could model values by just building in an aversion to social disapprobation into the individual's preferences.
The way to see that is to consider the difference between the case where the social norm in question is one that you personally regard as stupid or even pernicious and the case where you regard the social norm as right and yourself as mistaken for having transgressed it. A preference for social approbation would lead you to conform (or tend to lead you in that direction) in EITHER case. Really to value (say) treating people equally would lead you to buck the social norms of the American South in the 50s, for example, while simply having an aversion to social disapproval would lead you to simply conform. (Or having a taste for social disapproval would lead you always to buck the social norms, no matter what they were.)

Tastes are "brute" desires. I like vanilla ice cream and I don't like chocolate ice cream. If you ask why this is so, I may be able to provide a reason -- but this reason will be a "reason" only in a causal sense. I can get into the chemistry of chocolate and vanilla and the particular sensitivities of my particular taste buds. Or perhaps I had chocolate ice cream before I got sick once and I now associate the flavor with the feeling.
These explanations causally explain why I like the one and not the other, but they do not justify the preference. Vanilla isn't better than chocolate or vice versa, and it makes no sense to attempt to argue you into my preference if you like chocolate better than vanilla.

But to value something -- say justice or kindness (take an example of something you actually value) -- is NOT just to have this kind of brute taste for justice or kindness. It is rather to regard the justice or kindness as a good thing, whose goodness justifies one's desire for it (or if one doesn't currently desire it, then justifies an attempt to acquire the desire for it). Suppose you know that your taste for vanilla will change tomorrow to a taste for chocolate. What is the rational thing to do?--lay in a store of chocolate ice cream for tomorrow. But if I'm told that my desire to be kind will change tomorrow into a desire to be wantonly cruel, I would not today regard it as reasonable to lay in a store of whips or put myself in a position of power so as to be as cruel as possible to as many as possible tomorrow. I would want instead to hold onto my desire for kindness, or if that were impossible, then I might plan to stay away from people during the time that this attitude prevailed. At least something like that is what I would do if I valued kindness, rather than regarding it as merely one of my brute desires -- AND if I assumed that the change in my desire tomorrow was not going to be the result of greater rationality and enlightenment.

To value something is to regard a desire for that thing as itself -- worth acquiring or maintaining. Satisfactions that could be achieved by giving up one's values are not regarded as counting in favor of a course of action. If I could maximize my utility by cheating old ladies out of their savings, I would still not regard that as a reason to give up my scruples against doing such a thing. This is where identity comes in -- I am regarding the loss of this desire as a loss of my self -- a trade of my soul for the world (or something less).
And the argument back and forth over norms that Rachel alludes to comes in in connection with the sense that the desire is justified.
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  #20  
Old 05-09-2010, 04:18 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin View Post
http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/279...4:28&out=05:26
To value something is to regard a desire for that thing as itself -- worth acquiring or maintaining. Satisfactions that could be achieved by giving up one's values are not regarded as counting in favor of a course of action. If I could maximize my utility by cheating old ladies out of their savings, I would still not regard that as a reason to give up my scruples against doing such a thing. This is where identity comes in -- I am regarding the loss of this desire as a loss of my self -- a trade of my soul for the world (or something less).
And the argument back and forth over norms that Rachel alludes to comes in in connection with the sense that the desire is justified.
I can think of an example which counters what you are saying.
Let's say I value business acumen. I see that it can bring prosperity to individuals and society in general. However, let's say I am a lazy oaf or so independently wealthy that I have no need for or interest in acquiring business acumen. I simply value it without feeling the impulse to have it.
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  #21  
Old 05-09-2010, 09:32 PM
T.G.G.P T.G.G.P is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Fabio Rojas, the star of the sociology blog OrgTheory, has a critique of Akerlof & Kranton on education.
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  #22  
Old 05-10-2010, 09:11 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Quote:
Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
I can think of an example which counters what you are saying.
Let's say I value business acumen. I see that it can bring prosperity to individuals and society in general. However, let's say I am a lazy oaf or so independently wealthy that I have no need for or interest in acquiring business acumen. I simply value it without feeling the impulse to have it.
A good objection to a part of my claim -- but I think it's not a fatal one. It might be enough to note that if you already had a desire for the thing you valued, you could not be indifferent to losing that desire -- your counter-example doesn't challenge that part of my claim at all. But I also think the other part of my claim is defensible if I'm a bit more careful in stating what I think.
Suppose that I claim to value high art. Now it may be that I have no talent at producing art myself -- or maybe there are many other things I value more that keep me from becoming an artist. My not becoming an artist is hardly evidence that I don't value art. In line with the examples I offered above, I might possess or not possess an actual first-order desire to look at high art and yet still value art. What's important is the fact that if I don't have that desire, I at least have a tendency to respond to the value I place on art by attempting to acquire the desire to enjoy high art. And if I have the desire, I respond to my evaluation by trying to hold onto that desire.

You say that laziness might stand in the way of my even trying to acquire the desire that would cause me to actually take pleasure in Picasso. There certainly do seem to be some generalized psychological conditions that can thwart motivations in general -- depression for instance. Perhaps if depression comes between my values and my motivations, my lack of motivation might not count as evidence against my valuing high art. But suppose that I very actively pursue any number of other interests and values, but, though I claim to value high art, "laziness" always strikes me when it comes to cultivating my taste. Doesn't this count as very strong evidence that I don't really value high art at all. What I value is simply the image of myself as a cultivated person that I hope I can get everyone (including myself) to believe.

So, to be a bit more careful than I was the last time, I'd say that someone who values justice or high art (or whatever) must at least be disposed to cultivate a direct desire for justice or high art (or whatever) insofar as he is rational, emotionally healthy etc. This disposition may not only be defeated by irrationality, it may be overridden by other values (perhaps i never get around to cultivating the love of Picasso because I have only limited time and I value many other things more).
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  #23  
Old 05-11-2010, 12:41 PM
Tyrrell McAllister Tyrrell McAllister is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Swamymaximus View Post
For one thing, if you aren't willing to control for IQ when looking at disparities of group earnings, you aren't even trying to tell the truth.
Are you saying that they ignore IQ altogether? Or are you saying that they don't take IQ to be the sole and ultimate cause? And, in either case, what is your evidence for how they treat IQ? I don't recall their mentioning it during the diavlog, but I'm sure that they didn't mention a lot of things that are in the book.

Someone could concede that IQ is a significant factor for individual earnings, and yet still be more interested in other factors, such as personal identity. Given that interest, it makes sense to explore those other factors and not to spend much time on IQ. That seems to me to be perfectly consistent with truth-seeking. Science can't progress without this kind of division of labor.
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  #24  
Old 05-11-2010, 01:24 PM
Tyrrell McAllister Tyrrell McAllister is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin View Post
Tastes are "brute" desires. I like vanilla ice cream and I don't like chocolate ice cream. If you ask why this is so, I may be able to provide a reason -- but this reason will be a "reason" only in a causal sense.

[...]

But to value something -- say justice or kindness (take an example of something you actually value) -- is NOT just to have this kind of brute taste for justice or kindness. It is rather to regard the justice or kindness as a good thing, whose goodness justifies one's desire for it (or if one doesn't currently desire it, then justifies an attempt to acquire the desire for it). Suppose you know that your taste for vanilla will change tomorrow to a taste for chocolate. What is the rational thing to do?--lay in a store of chocolate ice cream for tomorrow. But if I'm told that my desire to be kind will change tomorrow into a desire to be wantonly cruel, I would not today regard it as reasonable to lay in a store of whips or put myself in a position of power so as to be as cruel as possible to as many as possible tomorrow.
I think that you are selling the expected-utility-maximizing framework short. It can capture this distinction.

Your taste for vanilla ice cream is not a "brute" taste in the sense of having no justification. Rather, you value vanilla ice cream because it provides a certain kind of pleasure. What you're really interested in is getting that pleasure. Right now, vanilla gives you that pleasure, so you value vanilla. But, in fact, your actions are guided by a desire to keep that particular kind of pleasure rolling in. Now, in your hypothetical, you know that you will tomorrow prefer chocolate over vanilla. You then infer that the course of action that will keep the pleasure-train running is to sell off all but a day's supply of vanilla, and to stock up on chocolate.

In contrast, you value justice in and of itself. Moreover, you currently value future justice. Yes, the future-you won't value justice in his present (which is your future). Nonetheless, the present-you does want there to be justice in the future-you's present. This is why present-you does not want to accommodate future-you's disregard for justice.

Now, consider that pleasure that vanilla currently gives you, but which chocolate will give you tomorrow. Do you value that pleasure in and of itself? Maybe. It's certainly closer to being intrinsically valuable than is vanilla itself. But I want to point out that, even if you value that pleasure in and of itself, it might only be current or near term pleasure that you currently value in that way. You might currently place no significant value on far-future pleasure, even if you currently place value on far-future justice.

All of these subtleties can be expressed with a suitable utility function. One might object at this point that the expected-utility-maximizing framework is too flexible. If it can accommodate all of these possibilities, then does it have any predictive content at all?

No, it doesn't really, not in and of itself. It's best thought of as a language that is so expressive that it can describe just about any conceivable system of values, or at least any system of values that could be acted upon in a coherent and consistent way.

This is why Kranton says that they can imbed their model within the traditional expected-utility-maximizing framework. Their contribution is to turn our attention to utility functions that are better approximations to ones that humans in fact have — namely, utility functions that contain terms for social disapprobation.
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  #25  
Old 05-13-2010, 09:00 AM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Hi Tyrrell,
Thanks for your interesting reply. I want to come back and reply in detail to your account of the distinction I was trying to draw, but I don't have time at the moment.
For now, let me just say that I don't think I intended (or anyway that I should have intended) to claim that decision theory could not in any way model the distinction I drew in the later part of my comment. My main concern was to say that, if norms and identity are to be captured, then simply introducing an aversion to social disapprobation won't work.
Of course, it may be that there's more to this than I'm aware of -- I reacted to the statement in the diavlog, not to the full contents of the book.

Time to go now, but I do intend to respond to your account below. Thanks again for your response.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tyrrell McAllister View Post
I think that you are selling the expected-utility-maximizing framework short. It can capture this distinction.

Your taste for vanilla ice cream is not a "brute" taste in the sense of having no justification. Rather, you value vanilla ice cream because it provides a certain kind of pleasure. What you're really interested in is getting that pleasure. Right now, vanilla gives you that pleasure, so you value vanilla. But, in fact, your actions are guided by a desire to keep that particular kind of pleasure rolling in. Now, in your hypothetical, you know that you will tomorrow prefer chocolate over vanilla. You then infer that the course of action that will keep the pleasure-train running is to sell off all but a day's supply of vanilla, and to stock up on chocolate.

In contrast, you value justice in and of itself. Moreover, you currently value future justice. Yes, the future-you won't value justice in his present (which is your future). Nonetheless, the present-you does want there to be justice in the future-you's present. This is why present-you does not want to accommodate future-you's disregard for justice.

Now, consider that pleasure that vanilla currently gives you, but which chocolate will give you tomorrow. Do you value that pleasure in and of itself? Maybe. It's certainly closer to being intrinsically valuable than is vanilla itself. But I want to point out that, even if you value that pleasure in and of itself, it might only be current or near term pleasure that you currently value in that way. You might currently place no significant value on far-future pleasure, even if you currently place value on far-future justice.

All of these subtleties can be expressed with a suitable utility function. One might object at this point that the expected-utility-maximizing framework is too flexible. If it can accommodate all of these possibilities, then does it have any predictive content at all?

No, it doesn't really, not in and of itself. It's best thought of as a language that is so expressive that it can describe just about any conceivable system of values, or at least any system of values that could be acted upon in a coherent and consistent way.

This is why Kranton says that they can imbed their model within the traditional expected-utility-maximizing framework. Their contribution is to turn our attention to utility functions that are better approximations to ones that humans in fact have — namely, utility functions that contain terms for social disapprobation.
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Old 05-15-2010, 11:21 AM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Hello Tyrrell,
I'm back as I said I would be, though it's taken me a long time.
I think we are talking past each other in connection with the "bruteness" of tastes. Consider two people, one of whom enjoys eating chocolate ice cream the other of whom does not (he may be neutral or actively dislike it). There is something about the one person that accounts for his enjoyment and about the other person that accounts for his lack of enjoyment. Whatever this difference is, we call "a difference in taste.' This difference is just a brute matter of fact. The person who likes chocolate is not perceiving something about the chocolate that justifies his enjoyment which the person who doesn't like it fails to perceive. There may be an explanation of why one likes chocolate and the other does not, but the explanation does not justify either the liking or the disliking. If I like the ice cream, I may perceive it as "good" or 'pleasant" or "tasty", but I perceive it as good or pleasant or tasty because I have a taste for it, not vice versa. I doubt that you would disagree with this claim.
To have a taste for something is quite consistent with the recognition that the explanation runs in this direction. I can like the taste of vanilla without thinking that someone who dislikes it is wrong -- I can readily admit that the taste of vanilla is valuable to me because I like it. If I ceased to like it, it would cease to be valuable to me. On the other hand, I'm suggesting that to value something is to regard the desire for it as justified by the goodness of the thing, not to regard the goodness as dependent upon the desire (i.e., the contingent brute fact of my "liking' or "having a taste for" the thing.


When you approach my example of vanilla ice cream, you presuppose the existence of a taste for the flavor of vanilla. If I didn't have such a taste, the flavor of vanilla would not be pleasant to me, as you suppose. Instead of talking about this taste, you shift your focus to a more self-conscious, reflective desire for pleasure.
I am attempting to argue that when it comes to rational planning, we regard the things we have a taste for and the things we value differently. A rational planner values getting things he just happens to like (things he has a taste for), but these things are of value to him only because he antecedently likes them, and only insofar as he likes them – the things he likes have value for him only contingently on the existence of the desire in question. When our tastes conflict, one of the options open to us is to eliminate or modify one of those tastes. If I like binging on cartons of vanilla ice cream and I like to look good in beachwear, a rational solution to the conflict is to eliminate the desire to binge on vanilla ice cream. If the objects of our tastes are of value to us because we desire them, there are other things that we regard ourselves as desiring because they have an antecedent value. And where we do not desire what we take to be valuable, we regard ourselves as having a reason to acquire a desire for that thing.
You try to account for this distinction in terms of valuing something as a mere means to something else versus wanting the thing for its own sake. You say that I value vanilla ice cream merely as a means to pleasure, while I value justice for its own sake. I grant you that we do not value the ice cream apart from the experience of tasting it – at least we don't normally. But do we desire this experience merely as a means to some further mental state (pleasure)? At certain points it sounds as though you are presupposing a rather implausible picture of pleasure as a kind of psychic currency – a unitary mental “stuff” that varies only in intensity and duration from one pleasant experience to another (for example, when you speak of the pleasure that vanilla currently provides and chocolate will provide in the future).
This theory of pleasure is implausible in the face of introspection – is there really some single mental state that all pleasant experiences take part in? Are reading Proust and having sex phenomenologically similar to the Proust-lover? Anyway, if pleasure were really like that, one major argument for decision theory's approach to the utility function would fall by the wayside. The original theory of utility assumed exactly this picture of pleasure and utility was simply net pleasure. The implausibility of this theory of pleasure is one reason why decision theorists now construct utility out of preference-satisfaction instead of treating it as pleasure minus pain.
A more plausible picture of pleasure treats pleasant experiences as those conscious states that we like (have a taste for) purely on the basis of how they feel (not based on further beliefs about the causes of the experiences). On this view, it doesn't make sense to say that the taste of vanilla ice cream is a mere means to pleasure (a pleasure that might itself be gotten from chocolate ice cream or from doing math problems). Rather to say that the experience of eating vanilla ice cream brings us pleasure is just to say that the experience of eating vanilla ice cream is one we like for its own sake. This seems to eliminate the contrast you attempt to draw between justice and the experience of eating vanilla ice cream – I desire both for their own sake (i.e., not as a mere means to something else). Yet only one is valued unconditionally (the rational planner would not regard the experience of vanilla ice cream as something to be pursued except insofar as there is a taste for it, while the rational planner who values justice regards justice as valuable prior to the desire for justice (the value of justice is seen as justifying the acquisition of the desire for it).

So maybe we ought to read your suggestion in this way: I desire vanilla ice cream only insofar as I can have the experience of it, while I desire justice whether or not I experience justice. This is a distinction between the two, but it isn't the difference between a taste and a value. It is quite possible that I could have a taste for something that I won't experience. For example, I might happen to want to be remembered a thousand years after my death. If this is just something I happen to want, I may quite reasonably take this desire into account as I make plans for my life, even though I will not experience the fulfillment of the desire. Yet that doesn't make it something I value in the unconditional way I'm talking about. I might decide that I'd be happier without this desire for posthumous fame and work to get rid of the desire – or at least to leave it out of all my calculations about how to live – just on the grounds that I'd be happier without the desire. I might have a taste for justice in just this same way – I happen to like it and I pursue it only insofar as I have a desire for it. If I know I'll love cruelty and injustice tomorrow, then I'll be happy to lay plans today for the exploitation and abuse of others tomorrow. And I could conceivably value vanilla ice cream or posthumous renown in something like the unconditional way that I imagine people actually tend to value justice.

At the end of your remarks, you treat decision theory as simply a (sometimes) useful mathematical formalism – a way of constructing a utility function out of a coherent set of preferences. Insofar as this is all it is, I certainly wouldn't claim that a utility function couldn't be constructed out of the preferences of someone who values justice and likes vanilla and has achieved the kind of coherent preference-ordering required by decision theory. But insofar as decision theory is employed as a (neo-Humean) theory of rationality or of value, it is at best a portion of a full theory of rationality masquerading as the whole. The kind of preference ordering required by decision theory is not just a given. If it ever actually existed, it would be itself an achievement of deliberation. Yes, I prefer strawberry to vanilla and vanilla to chocolate just as a brute matter of fact, but much deliberation begins with a conflict of desires and attempts to determine what to prefer. It's precisely into this space that the distinction between values and tastes comes in (as well as norms and identity). We can imagine an ideally rational agent who prospectively works out all his preferences in detail before he ever faces a decision. Then we can take these preferences and say what he ought to choose if he acts according to these preferences. In reality, our deliberation about preferences is itself often concurrent with our deliberation about what to do, but the idealization may well have its uses. The mistake would be to treat preference-forming deliberation as non-existent and to treat preferences as given.

A neo-Humean approach to values as I have described them might distinguish between first-order desires (for posthumous fame or for the experience of eating vanilla ice cream) and second-order desires (that I should be the kind of person who cares about justice or that I should be the sort of person who prefers vanilla to chocolate). I think it would also need to add to this distinction, the notion that we can identify with some of these second order desires, regarding them as constitutive of our identity. I think such an account will be inadequate, but I certainly think it would be a better account than one which simply introduced an aversion to social disapprobation.

However, not having read the book, I have to admit that I may just not be understanding what Rachel and Will are saying about social norms. Perhaps the conception they are using is not closely related to my conception of values.
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  #27  
Old 06-28-2010, 06:31 PM
Tyrrell McAllister Tyrrell McAllister is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

I have to break my reply up into two parts .

Quote:
I think we are talking past each other in connection with the "bruteness" of tastes. Consider two people, one of whom enjoys eating chocolate ice cream the other of whom does not (he may be neutral or actively dislike it). There is something about the one person that accounts for his enjoyment and about the other person that accounts for his lack of enjoyment. Whatever this difference is, we call "a difference in taste.' This difference is just a brute matter of fact. The person who likes chocolate is not perceiving something about the chocolate that justifies his enjoyment which the person who doesn't like it fails to perceive. There may be an explanation of why one likes chocolate and the other does not, but the explanation does not justify either the liking or the disliking. If I like the ice cream, I may perceive it as "good" or 'pleasant" or "tasty", but I perceive it as good or pleasant or tasty because I have a taste for it, not vice versa. I doubt that you would disagree with this claim.
Yes, I think that we understand each other on this point. I would also point out that the same remarks apply to your desire for justice. Presumably, there are certain states of affairs that you would call "just", and certain other states that you would call "unjust", just as there are certain kinds of ice cream that you call "chocolate. Let's suppose that you are pondering a possible state of affairs that you consider unjust. This state of affairs is determined by the facts about how things within it are situated and related among themselves. When you consider the totality of these facts, you perceive that the situation is unjust. And then, after making that perception, you feel within yourself a desire to avoid that state of affairs.

But one can imagine another entity that perceives exactly the facts that you perceive, but who simply fails to share your desire to avoid the state. Such an entity could see that these facts make the situation into one that falls under the term "unjust". But the entity would simply lack the mechanisms (physical, spiritual, or whatever) within itself that would translate the recognition of these facts into a compelling desire to do something about them.

I am not talking about Hume's is/ought distinction. Assuming that the word "ought" has a definition, the entity could even recognize that it ought to avoid the unjust state. That is, the being could recognize that avoiding the state conforms to the abstract definition of "ought". And yet this recognition needn't translate into a desire to avoid the state, unless the entity is so constituted as to make such a recognition cause such a desire. Whether the entity is so constituted is a brute fact about its constitution.

The situation is very analogous to the person who perceives the same facts regarding chocolate and vanilla that you do, but for whom those facts translate into a compelling desire to eat chocolate instead of vanilla. The reason that the other person is that way is a brute fact about his constitution.

[I want to distinguish the entity above from someone who recognizes that something is unjust, and who wishes that he could pull together the willpower to try to do something about it, but who instead finds himself playing video games all day. I would say that a part of such a person finds the injustice compelling, and desires to do something about it, but another part just wants to play video games. Unfortunately, that second part happens to be the one in control of the person's limbs. In contrast, the entity that I was describing above feels no urge of any sort to do anything about the injustice. Despite recognizing all of the facts, both of the "is" and the "ought" variety, the entity remains impassive.]

Quote:
To have a taste for something is quite consistent with the recognition that the explanation runs in this direction. I can like the taste of vanilla without thinking that someone who dislikes it is wrong -- I can readily admit that the taste of vanilla is valuable to me because I like it. If I ceased to like it, it would cease to be valuable to me. On the other hand, I'm suggesting that to value something is to regard the desire for it as justified by the goodness of the thing, not to regard the goodness as dependent upon the desire (i.e., the contingent brute fact of my "liking' or "having a taste for" the thing.
I am not seeing why this distinction can't fit into expected utility theory as follows:

In general, when you strive to bring about a certain state S of affairs, it is because of the facts about how things will be under S. It is your knowledge of these facts that motivates you to pursue S. They are what you take into account when you decide to pursue S.

Now, sometimes the relevant facts are the qualia that you anticipate experiencing when S happens. On the other hand, sometimes the facts motivating your pursuit of S have nothing at all to do with any anticipated experiences before, during, or after S. Anticipated experiences are just one of the features of a state that could motivate you to try to bring it about.

If you are pursuing a state S because you anticipate a certain enjoyable experience during S, then a change in the kinds of experiences you enjoy will change your desire for S. If S is the state of having vanilla ice cream arrive at your door next week, but you expect that tomorrow your enjoyment of vanilla will be replaced with an enjoyment of chocolate, then your present desire for S will now decrease.

But if S is the state in which far-future people thrive in a peaceful world, then your motivation to bring about S has nothing to do with any anticipated experiences for yourself. You will probably be dead by the time S arrives. Nonetheless, you are so constituted as to be motivated by knowledge of how S is to try to bring it about. Now, suppose you learn that you have a brain lesion that will soon destroy your concern for future people. Then, so long as the lesion hasn't yet done its damage, you are still motivated to pursue S, even though you know that you soon won't care. That is because the knowledge motivating you to pursue S does not include any facts about your own constitution.

In summary,

(1) What motivates you to pursue a certain state of affairs is your knowledge about the facts of that state.

(2) Furthermore, you find those facts compelling entirely because of certain brute facts about your constitution.

(3) Sometimes the facts motivating you are brute facts about your constitution. That is, sometimes you are explicitly taking these brute facts into account when you decide to pursue the state.

(4) However, often the facts motivating you do not include any brute facts about your constitution.

It's important to distinguish the facts that motivate you from the facts about what motivates you. These two sets of facts overlap, but they do not coincide. This is a tricky but very illuminating distinction.

Quote:
When you approach my example of vanilla ice cream, you presuppose the existence of a taste for the flavor of vanilla. If I didn't have such a taste, the flavor of vanilla would not be pleasant to me, as you suppose. Instead of talking about this taste, you shift your focus to a more self-conscious, reflective desire for pleasure.

I am attempting to argue that when it comes to rational planning, we regard the things we have a taste for and the things we value differently. A rational planner values getting things he just happens to like (things he has a taste for), but these things are of value to him only because he antecedently likes them, and only insofar as he likes them – the things he likes have value for him only contingently on the existence of the desire in question.
In terms of what I wrote above, the rational planner tries to take into account all of the facts that motivate him to pursue one state over another. He doesn't necessarily care about the facts about what motivates him. So he might, in principle, not take his tastes into account at all. Admittedly, that seems very unlike a modern-day human.

But if humans ever gain the ability to rewire themselves and to change what motivates them, then some might choose to write tastes out of their decision procedures entirely. They might still have tastes, but they wouldn't take those tastes into account when deciding what to do. They would weigh different potential states using facts about those states that have nothing to do with whether anyone is experiencing any enjoyment.
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  #28  
Old 06-28-2010, 06:36 PM
Tyrrell McAllister Tyrrell McAllister is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

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When our tastes conflict, one of the options open to us is to eliminate or modify one of those tastes. If I like binging on cartons of vanilla ice cream and I like to look good in beachwear, a rational solution to the conflict is to eliminate the desire to binge on vanilla ice cream. If the objects of our tastes are of value to us because we desire them, there are other things that we regard ourselves as desiring because they have an antecedent value. And where we do not desire what we take to be valuable, we regard ourselves as having a reason to acquire a desire for that thing.
I agree with this if you mean: If we desire a state S because of facts that are independent of what we will experience, then we regard ourselves as having a reason to acquire an enjoyment of experiencing S, because then we are even more likely to bring S about.

Quote:
You try to account for this distinction in terms of valuing something as a mere means to something else versus wanting the thing for its own sake. You say that I value vanilla ice cream merely as a means to pleasure, while I value justice for its own sake. I grant you that we do not value the ice cream apart from the experience of tasting it – at least we don't normally. But do we desire this experience merely as a means to some further mental state (pleasure)? At certain points it sounds as though you are presupposing a rather implausible picture of pleasure as a kind of psychic currency – a unitary mental “stuff” that varies only in intensity and duration from one pleasant experience to another (for example, when you speak of the pleasure that vanilla currently provides and chocolate will provide in the future).
I don't think that I presupposed this. I said that "you value vanilla ice cream because it provides a certain kind of pleasure." (Emphasis added.) And then, for the remainder of the post, I was careful to say "that pleasure", instead of just "pleasure". I am nowhere supposing that this pleasure differs only in duration and intensity from other kinds of pleasure, or that there is some fundamental unit of pleasure, with which all other pleasures are commensurate. I agree with you that such a theory of pleasure is implausible. But I don't think that anything I've said presupposes any such theory.

Nonetheless, some pleasures do seem to differ in little more than duration and intensity. Some experiences, though different, seem to provide very nearly the same kind of pleasure for the same duration at the same level of intensity. I was taking your love of vanilla today and your hypothetical future love of chocolate to be such experiences, for the sake of the thought experiment. But this isn't important to my argument.

I suspect that there is a whole mess of very different qualia that are all called "pleasure" or "enjoyment". I imagine that it will take a more advanced neuro-psychology to tease them all apart definitively. I don't want to define pleasure to mean "that which I pursue just for the feeling, and not for any other facts of the matter." I can imagine someone who feels compelled to pursue certain experiences just for the feelings that accompany the experiences, but who doesn't feel anything that we would call pleasure when those experiences are attained. Granted, such a person would be strange, but the premise doesn't seem self-contradictory to me. There is a useful distinction to be made between (1) an experience that compels us to seek it, and (2) pleasure.

Quote:
So maybe we ought to read your suggestion in this way: I desire vanilla ice cream only insofar as I can have the experience of it, while I desire justice whether or not I experience justice. This is a distinction between the two, but it isn't the difference between a taste and a value. It is quite possible that I could have a taste for something that I won't experience. For example, I might happen to want to be remembered a thousand years after my death. If this is just something I happen to want, I may quite reasonably take this desire into account as I make plans for my life, even though I will not experience the fulfillment of the desire. Yet that doesn't make it something I value in the unconditional way I'm talking about. I might decide that I'd be happier without this desire for posthumous fame and work to get rid of the desire – or at least to leave it out of all my calculations about how to live – just on the grounds that I'd be happier without the desire. I might have a taste for justice in just this same way – I happen to like it and I pursue it only insofar as I have a desire for it. If I know I'll love cruelty and injustice tomorrow, then I'll be happy to lay plans today for the exploitation and abuse of others tomorrow. And I could conceivably value vanilla ice cream or posthumous renown in something like the unconditional way that I imagine people actually tend to value justice.
Okay, you anticipate here some of what I wrote above, and you seem to be offering a rebuttal, but I don't understand your rebuttal.

Suppose that I desire a future state S because it is just, and suppose that I also know that I would be happier if I changed myself so as not to desire S. It just does not follow that "I'll be happy to lay plans today for the exploitation and abuse of others tomorrow." That will only follow if my motivation to pursue the happiness is sufficient to overwhelm my motivation to pursue the just state S. And there is no reason to suppose that this would be the case in general. Indeed, it's easy for me to imagine that no possible amount of personal happiness would suffice to motivate me to change myself in this way.

(Yes, if I were to change myself in this way, I would look back on the decision without regret. But that fact is not necessarily among the ones that I care about now, when I am making the choice.)

Quote:
At the end of your remarks, you treat decision theory as simply a (sometimes) useful mathematical formalism – a way of constructing a utility function out of a coherent set of preferences. Insofar as this is all it is, I certainly wouldn't claim that a utility function couldn't be constructed out of the preferences of someone who values justice and likes vanilla and has achieved the kind of coherent preference-ordering required by decision theory. But insofar as decision theory is employed as a (neo-Humean) theory of rationality or of value, it is at best a portion of a full theory of rationality masquerading as the whole.
Who claims that expected utility theory, in and of itself, is a full theory of rationality? Who could ignore the fact that it doesn't tell you which utilities you would assign to different states in the limit of full coherent reflection? Until you have some approximations of some of these utilities, you can't even begin to use expected utility theory.

Quote:
The kind of preference ordering required by decision theory is not just a given. If it ever actually existed, it would be itself an achievement of deliberation.
That doesn't necessarily follow. People sometimes make decisions without reflection. Sometimes, the brute facts about what motivates us can act upon us without our engaging in any deliberation in a conscious sense. I would guess that, in infancy, some of our unreflected-upon decisions are decisions to learn more about what we prefer (via fantasies, for example). Thus, by the time we get to the point of making conscious deliberative decisions, we have already learned enough to approximate some of our preferences. From that point on, we can proceed to use expected utility theory explicitly.

Quote:
Yes, I prefer strawberry to vanilla and vanilla to chocolate just as a brute matter of fact, but much deliberation begins with a conflict of desires and attempts to determine what to prefer. It's precisely into this space that the distinction between values and tastes comes in (as well as norms and identity). We can imagine an ideally rational agent who prospectively works out all his preferences in detail before he ever faces a decision. Then we can take these preferences and say what he ought to choose if he acts according to these preferences. In reality, our deliberation about preferences is itself often concurrent with our deliberation about what to do, but the idealization may well have its uses. The mistake would be to treat preference-forming deliberation as non-existent and to treat preferences as given.
I agree that it would be a mistake "to treat preference-forming deliberation as non-existent". I'm sure that some people make that mistake, but it's definitely not intrinsic to expected utility theory. On the contrary, preference-forming deliberation is just another activity, another way to use up resources, and it comes with certain expected benefits. Thus, a fully reflective person would use expected utility theory to decide how much of their resources they ought to allocate to preference-discovery.
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  #29  
Old 07-21-2010, 10:40 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

Hi Tyrrell,
Thank you for your reply and all the work you put into it. Sorry I didn't see it sooner after you posted it!

Rather than commenting on each of your comments, I think I may be able to briefly clarify the position I'm going for and to make clearer the portion of my earlier response that you didn't get in my earlier post.

In my previous posts I haven't been clear enough about the difference between what I was arguing for (conclusion) and my evidence for that conclusion.

I take it that decision theory regards valuing a certain state of affairs as the same as desiring it and it reduces the comparison of values to a single dimension. If I prefer A to B, then I value A more than B. My values can be placed on a single line from left (value less) to right (value more).

My view is that if we are going to understand our ordinary conception of value along with the way that I think we actually do deliberate), we need to recognize a second, vertical dimension to desire and value -- the dimension of depth vs. shallowness or the contingent vs the essential. This depth dimension permits our aims to have a certain structure whose very possibility is elided by decision theory.*

On my view, a person who has a mere taste for something need not have any particular attitude toward his desires toward that thing. In some cases, one can actively reject and disown one of our tastes -- as in Plato's memorable example of Leontius who tries to avoid looking at corpses and finally breaks down and looks, telling his eyes "you evil wretches, take your fill of the beautiful sight!" But even where we don't disown our tastes, we regard them as inessential -- desires we just happen to have. On the other hand, to value justice (to love it in the sense that doesn't require any desire to be loved back) is to identify with the desire for justice. If I value justice and this conflicts with my expensive tastes, I'll see myself my true self) as on the side of justice. Leontius seems to side against his desire to look at the corpses, and yet that taste for looking at corpses wins out over him. (Depending on how you understand preferences, it seems that we have a case of someone preferring what (in the ordinary sense) he values less.) At any rate, if you admit the possibility of identifying with a desire, then it should be clear what the difference is between the "horizontal" and "vertical" dimensions. I may vastly prefer the taste of vanilla to the taste of chocolate, yet I may not identify with my current taste, and therefore (in my sense) not value the taste of vanilla over the taste of chocolate.

You attempt to account for the evidence I tried to give for these two dimensions by assuming that the difference between what I call tastes and what I call values is a difference in the object of the desire. You assume that a taste is a desire for a psychological state of myself, while what I call a value is a desire for a state of affairs (e.g., justice) with no reference to my own states.
As a counterexample to this account, I suggested it would be quite possible to have a taste for posthumous fame. I won't be alive to enjoy posthumous fame, so it doesn't seem that my desire can be described as a desire to have a certain psychological state. I guess in a tenuous way, the fame might be regarded as some kind of property of myself, though not a psychological state. I might, given that I have this desire, do something toward achieving posthumous fame, yet I might not particularly identify with the desire. I might regard it as just something I happen to want. This could be a mere taste in my sense, even though it is not a desire for a psychological state of myself. I went on to suggest that it was possible for some people to have a mere taste for justice. Your account of the distinction (desire for state of the world vs. desire for state of self) cannot handle this possibility assuming it is one, since it draws the distinction on the basis of the nature of the object of the desire -- here the object (justice) is the same in the taste for justice as in the valuing of justice. This was actually the point I was trying to make in the section of my earlier post you said you didn't understand. I was suggesting that it was quite possible not to identify with the desire for justice, to regard justice as just something you happen to want. It occurs to me now to add that one could conceivably identify with the desire for certain psychological states of oneself and could thereby value those states. Again, the object of the desire would be the same, and it could therefore not be the source of the difference between the two states (valuing justice vs. having a taste for justice). Come to think of it, it would surely also be possible to identify with the desire for some subjective state of myself – the state of aesthetic appreciation, say, or of a meditative sense of oneness with the universe.

OK, I hope it's clear at least that the distinction I am attempting to draw between taste and value is not the same as the distinction you draw between valuing states of the world and valuing my own conscious states. You might still want to maintain that your distinction accounts for the kind of evidence I was offering for my view. I say “the kind of evidence” because I want to have the freedom to improve on what I said in my previous posts.) Here's the heart of your response to my justice example:
Quote:
But if S is the state in which far-future people thrive in a peaceful world, then your motivation to bring about S has nothing to do with any anticipated experiences for yourself. You will probably be dead by the time S arrives. Nonetheless, you are so constituted as to be motivated by knowledge of how S is to try to bring it about. Now, suppose you learn that you have a brain lesion that will soon destroy your concern for future people. Then, so long as the lesion hasn't yet done its damage, you are still motivated to pursue S, even though you know that you soon won't care. That is because the knowledge motivating you to pursue S does not include any facts about your own constitution.
Now on my view, you could equally well be talking here about a case where I have a mere taste for justice or where I really value justice. The difference for me lies not in the object of the desired state of affairs, but rather in how far I identify with my own desire – how far I regard that desire as part of who I am. The same goes for someone who desires posthumous fame. Suppose someone who wants posthumous fame considers the possibility that he will lose his desire for posthumous fame. Does he see the loss of this desire as a loss of part of his identity, and therefore as something to be fought against? Or does he see it as the loss of a desire he just happens to have. Some people contemplating this loss of the desire might well brighten at the idea: the pursuit of the goal demanded a lot of them and they will be happier now without it. Those who look at the desire in this way perceive it as a mere taste. (Further in this direction, others might regard it as a compulsion – not merely contingent, but alien.) On the other hand, other people might see the loss of the desire as a loss of an essential part of themselves. For them, the thought that they will be happier without the desire is no comfort and might be especially horrible – the way that you'd feel if you were told that once your brain has been sufficiently damaged you will be extremely happy to wallow in excrement. I don't feel this way about posthumous fame, but I would feel like this about the idea that in the future I will enjoy torturing people or that I will value Dan Brown's writing style over that of Jane Austen.

Whichever attitude someone takes toward posthumous fame, one might continue to be motivated by the desire for it while one still had it. But those who value posthumous fame will not only be motivated to seek posthumous fame, they will have a reason to try to hold onto the desire for posthumous fame. This reason to hold onto the desire is not a direct consequence of the fact that the desire is for a state of affairs that doesn't involve any of their own conscious states. If it were, then the other attitude I described (“oh well, I may be happier without the desire”) would be inconceivable – but it is at least as conceivable as the attitude that sees posthumous fame as genuinely valuable.
Well, I had more thoughts inspired by your post – e.g., on what I take to be your allusion to the “backgrounding” of desire, and the bearing of what I've written above on decision theory, but maybe I should save those for a later time, since this post is already longer than I intended and it's getting late.

*I recognize that it may not really be a fault of decision theory that it elides this second dimension -- it assumes that we have already worked through all the sort of conflicts that I go into in this post and have chosen a preference ordering. The 2 dimensions are at this point collapsed down toone. All that remains tobe done is tobring in probabilities and calculate. There's nothing obviouslywrong with slicing off the partt of decision that is capable of mathematical treatment and finding that treatment.

Last edited by Bloggin' Noggin; 07-21-2010 at 10:52 PM..
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