Sundays with Stendhal 11: On Rational Choice

by Kenneth Anderson

… economics and Hume are the fashion.

(The Red and the Black, volume 2, chapter 53, “The Clergy, Their Forests, Liberty.”)  Special edition for … Eric Posner, Adrian Vermeule, Andrew Guzman, Jack Goldsmith, and Kal Raustiala!  (Utilitarianism has a long cultural, indeed literary, history.)

One Response

  1. I’m a bit confused (not for the first time; and we’ll leave aside the historical fact that the traditional welfare economic criterion was at one time, and in some ways still is, the utilitarian one): rational choice theory has to do with the explanation of behavior and is, in some sense, purports or aspires to be morally neutral or agnostic (of course in practice ethical commitments are often smuggled in) while utilitarianism, as a species of consequentialism, is about the ethical justification for behavior (the former is ex post and the latter is ex ante). As a would-be responsible or ethical agent, I act for reasons that may be deontological, virtue-oriented, consequentialist, etc. Any rational choice theory will have to account for the varied possible reasons for my acting the way I do: it’s not credible to assume I simply act from utilitarian motives or considerations; indeed, it’s highly unlikely that utilitarianism or consequentialism can be considered a viable theory for practical decision making at all (cf. only some of the reasons given by J.R. Lucas in Responsibility, 1993).

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