The formalizing of self-interest as an economic principle was largely the work of Francis Edgeworth. It is sometimes wrongly traced back to the. It is worth considering how this approach compares with Amartya Sen’s arguments about “commitments” in “Rational Fools” (link). Sen’s essay. PDF | This article presents a critique of Amartya Sen’s article “Rational Fools”.

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Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 4: Such results do not prove the cause of this difference in behavior or raitonal, but they do provide a very strong suggestion that the non-economists tend to act more in accordance with justice as impartiality or ethical preferences while the economists act closer to how homo economicus would behave.

I wish I liked vegetarian foods more, or I wish I cared more about others. This is not enough to conclude that economists are rational fools.

Third, as Sen points out we can actually desire to have preferences different than the ones we currently have i. This isn’t the only way that moral and normative commitments can be incorporated into a theory of rational deliberation; but it is one substantive attempt to do so, and is more satisfactory for me, anyway than the construction offered by Akerlof and Kranton. Herbert Gintis – – Mind and Society 10 2: Collective action, group mobilization, religious sacrifice, telling the truth, and working to the fullest extent of one’s capabilities are all examples of activity where narrow egoistic rationality would dictate different choices than those ordinary individuals are observed to make.

Admitting behavior based on commitment would, of course have far- reaching consequences on the nature of many economic models.


Moving on from Edgeworth, the argument for self-interest and rationality has sometimes been given in the form of revealed preference. I may choose the vegetarian option, not because I prefer it, but because I prefer the world arrangement in which I go for the vegetarian option. However, its continued use as an assumption with little reference to its implausibility outside certain domains has lent it more credibility than Mill or Edgeworth ever intended it to wield.

Amartya Sen Rational Fools | Oxbridge Notes the United Kingdom

After extensive explanation and instruction, participants were to choose whether to cooperate or defect in a one-shot prisoner’s dilemma. That is, economists learn to maximize individual utility, but put little thought into how those orderings were developed or how there may be other options.

One danger is that when taken as rstional prescriptive model, economics of social cooperation based upon homo economicus may skew real behavior in the antisocial direction. This may be true, but non-economists have already found a way to avoid this costly mistake. But which of the many options does the individual use in any given situation? Sen suggests that this sense can be enough to move a person to act despite an expected net decrease in utility. Defenders of the homo economicus model may claim that such pure actions do not exist either as a philosophical assertion or because they have defined them out of existence.

Philip Kitcher – – Metaphilosophy 42 3: Social and Political Philosophy. What used to be a distinct non-quantifiable reason for action has been rendered “irrational” by the model.

The Creation of Rational Fools

Not Human, but Important. Recycling, for instance, is a case of ignoring the economic logic that my individual recycling effort cannot make a difference.

Rather, they are reflective and deliberative, and they have reasons for their actions. One solution may be to introduce different sets of preferences for the same individual. This meta-ranking changes depending on the situation. Sen distinguishes between cases of sympathy and cases of commitment. John Harsanyi suggests a distinction between ethical preferences and subjective preferences.


In this view, amadtya is defined by the agreements that people form while acting in their own interest.

Or in other words, one’s principles or commitments may trump one’s first-order preferences. Thus, the distinction between these two types of preferences does solve some problems, but it does not solve all the shortcomings of the economic theory of utility and the strict utility maximizing assumption.

Posted by Daniel Little at Maria Carmela Agodi – – Sociological Theory 9 2: He is taught that the “rational” actor that is, homo economicus simply maximizes utility and does not question his preferences.

I also like the neo-Kantian approach taken by Tom Nagel in The Possibility of Altruism as an effort to demonstrate that non-egoistic reasoning is rational. Commitment is a subtler phenomenon. It is sometimes wrongly traced back to the work of Adam Smith. That is, he is being taught that justice is wmartya impartiality, but instead is the justice of mutual advantage.

You are commenting using your Twitter account. But it is still quite unclear which of the two sets of preferences commitment would fall under.