• ChatteringMonkey
    545
    Economics, or at least part of classical economics often gets critiqued because it assumes some kind of hypothetical rational economic actor in its theories, when in fact we are not all that rational... and so the theories don't really apply to the real world.

    Doesn't some philosophy often make a similar mistake, especially in morality and justice to name a few... where we expect people to behave like rational (moral) actors.

    For instance, the justice system at least partly had it origins retribution. It was set up precisely in part to curb the desire for revenge by institutionalizing it, and denying the individual to take the matters into their own hands. Now as some theories of justice would have it, retribution can not be a function of justice anymore because revenge isn't seen as a legitimate rational goal to have. But in the meanwhile, humans are still humans... and probably still have more or less the same desires, yet we expect them to be rational now and not desire revenge when deciding on what functions justice should serve?
  • SophistiCat
    1.3k
    Doesn't some philosophy often make a similar mistake, especially in morality and justice to name a few... where we expect people to behave like rational (moral) actors.ChatteringMonkey

    I think you are mixing up two senses of expectation. There is expectation as a plausible anticipation, a forward model. We may reasonably expect people act on their strong desires. And then there is expectation as a moral obligation: you are expected to behave morally, even if it goes against your (amoral or immoral) desires.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    545
    I think you are mixing up two senses of expectation. There is expectation as a plausible anticipation, a forward model. We may reasonably expect people act on their strong desires. And then there is expectation as a moral obligation: you are expected to behave morally, even if it goes against your (amoral or immoral) desires.SophistiCat

    Right, the one is descriptive and the other normative.... which would mean the analogy still would apply to talking about what functions the justice system should serve for example, assuming we would want to take into account how people actually act when deciding that.

    The analogy maybe doesn't work that well when we talk about morality then, because that is supposedly only prescribing normative behaviour. Although it does seem kindof odd that the way we would expect people to behave (in the normative sense here) doesn't take into account how people actually behave. Suppose a hypothetical scenario where the vast majority of people were generally not capable of behaving rationally. A morality that would expect them to behave rationally doesn't seem to make a lot of sense then, does it? And so in that sense how we actually behave doesn't seem to be totally disconnected from the normative.

    It's interesting that you bring this up, because for economics it kind of worked the other way around historically. The rational economic actor was supposed to be descriptive... i.e. to be able to make models of how the economy works. But it wasn't always a very accurate model partly because of that assumption, and then it actually ended up being used normatively in that we implemented a lot of policies and laws to try to bring about this theoretical 'descriptive' economic model (neo-liberalism et al).
  • SophistiCat
    1.3k
    Right, the one is descriptive and the other normative.... which would mean the argument still would apply to talking about what functions the justice system should serve for example, assuming we would want to take into account how people actually act when deciding that.ChatteringMonkey

    Both morality and law are normative. The difference is only in that (in some places) the latter is more institutionalized. But this is a distinction in degree, not principle. To anticipate objections, I don't mean to say that legal and moral are synonymous or coextensive; only that both are normative, and both have axiological origin. Laws can be more or less equitable and inclusive, but they are always intended to be the expression of someone's values, even if it is just the values of the powerful group in control.

    Depending on the situation, the law's normative intent may conflict with an individual's wishes; sometimes it may even conflict with the wishes of the majority. This can mean that the law is not performing as intended, or it can mean that the law does not serve the interests of the majority by design.

    Now as to the legal principle that retribution is not a function of justice (I am not actually sure that this is exactly so, but I am not a legal expert), either it harmonizes with what most people believe or it doesn't, but if it doesn't, there isn't an inherent contradiction in that. Unlike an economic model, the justice system is not necessarily intended to conform to the actual beliefs of the populace at all times. It is the populace that is supposed to conform to the justice system in the first place. Whether the populace likes the system and how much influence it has on the system is another question.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    545
    Both morality and law are normative. The difference is only in that (in some places) the latter is more institutionalized. But this is a distinction in degree, not principle. To anticipate objections, I don't mean to say that legal and moral are synonymous or coextensive; only that both are normative, and both have axiological origin. Laws can be more or less equitable and inclusive, but they are always intended to be the expression of someone's values, even if it is just the values of the powerful group in control.SophistiCat

    Yes ok the laws themselves are normative, like morality, but the sanctions are not, right? That's what we are talking about when talk about retributive or rehabilitative functions of justice. So the question i'm getting at is not whether murder should be prohibited, but how it should be dealt with when someone doesn't abide by that law.

    Now as to the legal principle that retribution is not a function of justice (I am not actually sure that this is exactly so, but I am not a legal expert), either it harmonizes with what most people believe or it doesn't, but if it doesn't, there isn't an inherent contradiction in that. Unlike an economic model, the justice system is not necessarily intended to conform to the actual beliefs of the populace at all times. It is the populace that is supposed to conform to the justice system in the first place. Whether the populace likes the system and how much influence it has on the system is another question.SophistiCat

    Isn't that a bit like saying a hospital shouldn't try to cure the sick because that is a need people have? The justice system, and again I'm not talking about the law specifically, but about the whole institution, presumably also is there to serve a function society has a need for.

    It's no legal principle that retribution is not a function of justice, at least not in most countries yet... but it is a view some (philosophers) have. The basic tenet is that retribution is only there to serve some primitive desire for revenge, but that it's doesn't help society or the rehabilitation of the criminal etc... and therefor should not be a part of the justice system anymore. Maybe that is a perfectly fine view to have, or maybe it does have some problems because it expects people not to be people.

    Anyway this is all a bit of a tangent, I take your basic point that rationality can be used in a normative or descriptive sense, and that the two should not be confused. I need to think about it some more.
  • Nagase
    168


    I think the two discussions (about economics, about punishment) are a bit different, perhaps in the direction gestured at by . In the case of rational decision theory, game theory, and other economic models, what is being constructed are, well, models, that is, deliberate falsifications of reality for the purpose of simplifying a complex causal network to aid our understanding. Briefly, when phenomena get too complex, it is very difficult to get a hold of it, so we idealize the complexity away (think of Galileo's inclined plane, which ignores things like friction, etc.). Obviously, all sort of things can go wrong, especially if we forget that we are dealing with idealizations, but the general strategy is sound. So I think those that criticize rational decision theory as being too abstract are missing the point: the point is the abstraction.

    On the other hand, you're criticizing some philosophical theories on punishment as unreasonable, i.e. the issue here is normative. Of course, the two are related, since part of the problem (according to you, if I understood correctly) is that such theories have an impoverished conception of our human needs. Here, the above strategy won't work, since it is not a question of understanding a causal network anymore, but of how to best satisfy our human needs (that is why I think your criticism is independent of how to assess rational decision theory). My question here comes then from another direction: granted that we presently have a need for retribution, should we simply give in to this need, or can we shape it in some way? That is, perhaps there are some of our needs that are not conducive to the good life, so to speak, and therefore should (if possible) be dropped. If that is so, shouldn't our institutions be such to help in this task?
  • ChatteringMonkey
    545


    I think the two discussions (about economics, about punishment) are a bit different, perhaps in the direction gestured at by ↪SophistiCat. In the case of rational decision theory, game theory, and other economic models, what is being constructed are, well, models, that is, deliberate falsifications of reality for the purpose of simplifying a complex causal network to aid our understanding. Briefly, when phenomena get too complex, it is very difficult to get a hold of it, so we idealize the complexity away (think of Galileo's inclined plane, which ignores things like friction, etc.). Obviously, all sort of things can go wrong, especially if we forget that we are dealing with idealizations, but the general strategy is sound. So I think those that criticize rational decision theory as being too abstract are missing the point: the point is the abstraction.Nagase

    Yes it was certainly a successful strategy in making advances in the hard sciences like physics. I do wonder if the strategy is as successful in economics? That's not a rhetorical question, I just don't know all that much about economics. If we ignore things like friction, we seem to be able lay bare more fundamental laws that hold in most of the universe, and we can then add more complexity back in if we want to use that understanding to calculate things for practical purposes here on earth. Can we expect the same kind of strategy to work for every science? It's not a given that you can break down things into fundamental laws in all sciences I don't think?

    And yes to your point that things can go wrong if we forget that we are dealing with idealizations! Maybe economists have gotten to much criticism for this and the real problem was politicians drawing the wrong conclusions.

    On the other hand, you're criticizing some philosophical theories on punishment as unreasonable, i.e. the issue here is normative. Of course, the two are related, since part of the problem (according to you, if I understood correctly) is that such theories have an impoverished conception of our human needs. Here, the above strategy won't work, since it is not a question of understanding a causal network anymore, but of how to best satisfy our human needs (that is why I think your criticism is independent of how to assess rational decision theory).Nagase

    Yes that is basically the point I was getting at with the justice example, but you phrased it more clearly and managed to draw out why the analogy doesn't work all that well.

    Another example would be something like Peter Singers views on morality. One of the things he says is that proximity should not play a part in how we deal with people morally, someone across the globe should be given the same moral weight as your close relatives... My criticism then would be that, although this might be perfectly rational, this probably won't work all that well in practice, because the affections and relations we build with people we know are part of what motivates us to be moral in the first place, I think.

    My question here comes then from another direction: granted that we presently have a need for retribution, should we simply give in to this need, or can we shape it in some way? That is, perhaps there are some of our needs that are not conducive to the good life, so to speak, and therefore should (if possible) be dropped. If that is so, shouldn't our institutions be such to help in this task? — Negase

    Given that our biology hasn't changed all that much, the question is how flexibel can we expect humans to be ultimately? Historically, the institution of justice was already an attempt to channel our desires into something that is less harmful, by taking away the right of the individual to seek revenge and institutionalizing it. That was the deal between the state and the individual so to speak, you have to refrain from violence and we will take care of retributive part for you. In that light the non-retributive view on justice is saying essentially, you can't take matters in your own hands AND we are not going to do it for you either. Maybe that could work, or maybe that particular human need would then find another way if it isn't satisfied anymore? I'm not sure, but I do think a lot of philosophy tends to just gloss over these issues.
  • Nagase
    168


    (1) On idealization: yes, I do think it is a successful strategy in most, if not all, sciences. Note that idealization is not used (just) to isolate and formulate fundamental laws; rather, we use idealizations primarily to understand causal chains, where these need not be governed by strict laws. I do not think every science has "fundamental laws", but I do think that science is mostly in the business of uncovering causal chains.

    (2) On biology: supposing that you are right about the biology, it does not follow (at least, not without some highly contentious premises) that you are right about our needs and desires, because these can change without a corresponding change in our biology. So, for example, standards of attractiveness have varied wildly across ages and cultures. Or, to give a more personal example, it's been a couple of years now that I'm a vegan and I have had no need or desire for meat in quite a while. The point is, I think it is undeniable that people can shape at least some of their needs and desires rationally. If that is so, I think it is reasonable to ask whether our institutions could reflect this.
  • Coeurdelion
    1
    I read that Descartes skepticism of the mind was epistemic. How do we know what is represented is real? Kant's skepticism was semantic: what does it mean for the mind to represent anything at all? Can you help?
  • ChatteringMonkey
    545


    (1) On idealization: yes, I do think it is a successful strategy in most, if not all, sciences. Note that idealization is not used (just) to isolate and formulate fundamental laws; rather, we use idealizations primarily to understand causal chains, where these need not be governed by strict laws. I do not think every science has "fundamental laws", but I do think that science is mostly in the business of uncovering causal chains.Nagase

    Ok, I mostly agree with this I think. Any form of knowledge will invariably have to involve some abstracting away from particulars to the more general, otherwise it isn't knowledge. I'm just no sure this can be successfully done for everything... there is no guarantee that everything is knowable.

    Assuming the goal of uncovering causal chains is to tell us something about the world we live in, how does that work in economy if we have to assume a hypothetical rational actor to uncover these causal chains? What does it tell us about the world then?

    (2) On biology: supposing that you are right about the biology, it does not follow (at least, not without some highly contentious premises) that you are right about our needs and desires, because these can change without a corresponding change in our biology. So, for example, standards of attractiveness have varied wildly across ages and cultures. Or, to give a more personal example, it's been a couple of years now that I'm a vegan and I have had no need or desire for meat in quite a while. The point is, I think it is undeniable that people can shape at least some of their needs and desires rationally. If that is so, I think it is reasonable to ask whether our institutions could reflect this.Nagase

    I agree that our desires change, because biology is not the only factor, culture obviously has an impact too. But I don't think that ability to change is limitless, not unless you change the human genome. Our institutions do reflect this change that comes with culture, and I have no problem with that in principle. What I have my doubts about is ideas about change that only spring for humans as rational actors or from some moral ideas. Coming up with ideas of change is the easy part. The harder part is to figure out if they could work in practice because of constraints imposed by human biology... and the world in general.
  • ChatteringMonkey
    545


    I read that Descartes skepticism of the mind was epistemic. How do we know what is represented is real? Kant's skepticism was semantic: what does it mean for the mind to represent anything at all? Can you help?Coeurdelion

    I'm not sure I can help with that. I don't know all that much about either of them, because they are more on the rationalist spectum of the tradition. I'm more of an empiricist, in line with Hume/Nietzsche. What I would say about that question is that we have no proof that the world we see is the real one, and no way of knowing really, because we only have access to the world via our senses. But nevertheless we have to assume that it the real one, to get on with our lives... which makes it a matter of psychology ultimately, rather that epistemology or metaphysics.
  • ssu
    2.8k
    Economics, or at least part of classical economics often gets critiqued because it assumes some kind of hypothetical rational economic actor in its theories, when in fact we are not all that rational... and so the theories don't really apply to the real world.ChatteringMonkey
    First of all, being rational makes the case that we try to maximize our utility, whatever that is, which then gives of the ability to use mathematics in our models. But these models of course do have their limitations.

    Doesn't some philosophy often make a similar mistake, especially in morality and justice to name a few... where we expect people to behave like rational (moral) actors.ChatteringMonkey
    Philosophy isn't interested just to explain how people are, philosophy wants to give answers how we should behave too and show how things for everybody would be better if we do so. There's always the normative side to philosophy.

    But in the meanwhile, humans are still humans... and probably still have more or less the same desires, yet we expect them to be rational now and not desire revenge when deciding on what functions justice should serve?ChatteringMonkey
    How many of us would cherish "Individualist hedonism" as a school of philosophy, which strives for one's pleasure and sees empathy as bad and sociopathy, even psychopathy as good as a virtue? I guess that there would be people fitting this discription, so is it worth modelling the World with "individualist hedonism"?
  • ssu
    2.8k
    Yes it was certainly a successful strategy in making advances in the hard sciences like physics. I do wonder if the strategy is as successful in economics? That's not a rhetorical question, I just don't know all that much about economics.ChatteringMonkey
    This is an interesting question and a bit different topic, so I reply to this separately.

    Yes, economics has desired to become a "hard science" with using various fields of mathematics in depicting the complexity of economics. However I find that it is utterly incapable of reaching the objectivity we have in physics as the theories themselves have an influence how we think of economics and how we make our economic decisions. The problem is subjectivity, which has been also noted for example in sociology.
  • Nagase
    168


    (1) I'll give two examples that I think can be illuminated by considering economic models. Consider what is generally taken to be Smith's doctrine of the invisible hand (I'm sidestepping here issues of attribution). According to this idea, by pursuing their own interests, consumers and producers interact in a certain way that settles prices and product distribution that maximizes the benefits for everyone. Anyway, there are obviously a lot of qualifications to be made, but the point is that one can use game theory to show that this happens only in conditions of perfect competition. Since these almost never obtain, we can therefore predict that the current distribution is not maximizing the benefits for everyone, but is rather skewed in one direction (I'll leave you to guess which direction).

    The second example is related to Gary Becker's famous argument that neoliberal economies would eventually lead to the disappearance of discrimination. The basic idea is this: discrimination is irrational, since it is not supported in objective differences between the discriminated groups; therefore, a rational employer (for instance) can attract the discriminated groups by (say) offering equal wages, and so obtain an advantage over those employers who discriminate in their hiring practices, eventually driving them out of business. Now, game theory can be employed to show that Becker's reasoning is wrong. Again, there are a lot of qualifications that could be raised here, but the gist of it is that game theory shows that once a conventional behavior has been established, it can be very difficult to unsettle it, because the agents benefit from acting according to the convention and lose from not so acting. So, if discrimination becomes entrenched, it can be very difficult to eliminate it, because the agents will have incentives to discriminate.

    See also this very nice link for more on game theory: https://ncase.me/trust/

    (2) I think you're putting too much weight on the biological dimension, but, regardless, I do think you are right that it is not easy to implement changes. This is discussed by Bernard Williams in his famous paper "Internal and External Reasons", in which he argued basically as follows: for an agent to change his basic motivations, he needs to be motivated to so change, so this motivation has to be part of the basic motivation in the first place. So there is no real motivational changes (this is a bit crude, but the crudeness will not affect my main point---incidentally, Philippa Foot also develops similar ideas in her "Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives"). Now, I agree with Williams's reasoning, but I think his conclusion is mistaken. The idea is that people can be motivated to improve themselves, and this motivation can be used to restructure their basic motivations. Of course, this assumes that people can have the motivation to improve in the first place, but I believe this can be achieved by the right upbringing (i.e. one that instilled self-criticism as an important virtue in the person).
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment