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  • Mark D. White

Abstract

Over the last two chapters, we’ve examined a number of approaches to measuring well-being, from the standard but maligned gross domestic product, to more recent calls for an accounting of happiness, and finally to the economists’ favorite, preference satisfaction. We saw that each has its own specific problems in conception, practice, and policy, but one thing they all share is that they define well-being for the people whose well-being is being measured. This is no problem for advocates of objective versions of well-being, who normally make no claim to any level of subjectivity—though we’ll see there are exceptions to this—but this limits how deeply subjective measures like happiness and preference satisfaction can be. These measures depend on people to report their feelings or choices, which is subjective, but they do not leave people free to define their own conception of well-being—that’s up to the researchers, who decide whether they are measuring hedonic pleasure, life satisfaction, or preferences. In short, these measures are assessed subjectively but defined objectively.

Keywords

Objective Theory Behavioral Economist Moral Rule Preference Ranking Libertarian Paternalism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    On the issue of whether other- regarding interests can be said truly to be in one’s own interests—an issue with moral and legal ramifications far beyond my simple use of the term— see Joel Feinberg, Harm to Others (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 70–79.Google Scholar
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    Another reason is that it corresponds with economist and philosopher Adam Smith’s theory that an economy could function even if each person in it were acting solely in his or her own self- interest (the core idea of his “invisible hand” concept). This idea appears in various forms throughout his 1776 book The Wealth of Nations; see Jonathan B. Wight, “The Treatment of Smith’s Invisible Hand,” Journal of Economic Education 38 (2007): 341–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    L. W. Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 97.Google Scholar
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    For more on preferences and self- imposed constraints, see Amartya Sen, “Maximization and the Act of Choice,” included in his book, Rationality and Freedom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 158–205, at 189–92.Google Scholar
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    The concept of procedural utility, based on preferences for how outcomes are achieved as well as the outcomes themselves, is a close analog to principle, and it can be used to explain many of the same choices. For more, see Bruno S. Frey, Matthias Benz, and Alois Stutzer, “Introducing Procedural Utility: Not Only What, but Also How Matters,” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics 160 (2004): 377–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Just to throw out a few, you can see Amitai Etzioni, The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics (New York: Free Press, 1988); Robert S. Goldfarb and William B. Griffith, “Amending the Economist’s ‘Rational Egoist’ Model to Include Moral Values and Norms, Part 1: The Problem” and “Amending the Economist’s ‘Rational Egoist’ Model to Include Moral Values and Norms, Part 2: Alternative Solutions,” in Kenneth J. Koford and Jeffrey B. Miller (eds.), Social Norms & Economic Institutions (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), 39–84Google Scholar
  9. Lanse Minkler, Integrity and Agreement: Economics When Principles Also Matter (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008); and my own Kantian Ethics and Economics: Autonomy, Dignity, and Character (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), chs. 1– 2.Google Scholar
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    Even the smallest things can trigger unexpected changes in behavior: experiments have shown that, for instance, people are much more likely to extend help to someone in need after finding a dime in a payphone. For more, see John M. Doris, Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Philosopher Immanuel Kant, considered by some to be a particularly strict moralist, ridiculed such ethical panic: “But that human being can be called fantastically virtuous who allows nothing to be morally indifferent and strews all his steps with duties, as with mantraps ... Fantastic virtue is a concern with petty details which … would turn the government of virtue into tyranny.” Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1797/1996), 409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Roger J. Sullivan, An Introduction to Kant’s Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See, for instance, Nancy Sherman, The Fabric of Character: Aristotle’s Theory of Virtue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).Google Scholar
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    Much of this work is collected in Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky (eds.), Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)Google Scholar
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    Sissela Bok, Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 55 (see 54–58 in general for this idea).Google Scholar
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    Claire A. Hill, “Anti-Anti-Anti-Paternalism,” NYU Journal of Law & Liberty 2 (2007): 444–54, at 450.Google Scholar
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    Once again, for a thorough discussion of libertarian paternalism and nudges, see The Manipulation of Choice and the references therein, as well as Gilles Saint-Paul, The Tyranny of Utility: Behavioral Social Science and the Rise of Paternalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Robert Sugden, “Capability, Happiness, and Opportunity,” in Luigino Bruni, Flavio Comim, and Maurizio Pugno (eds.), Capabilities and Happiness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 299–322, at 319.Google Scholar
  30. 34.
    Some great sources in the ethics of care include Joan C. Tronto, Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care (New York: Routledge, 1993)Google Scholar
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  36. 36.
    On Gilligan’s work, see her book In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  37. 42.
    For two different and well- argued views on the moral principles grounding the American legal and political systems, see Ronald Dworkin, Freedom’s Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996)Google Scholar
  38. and Richard A. Epstein, The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Mark D. White 2014

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  • Mark D. White

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