Monday, November 26, 2012
Monday, June 11, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
That said, I have not examined the quality of these new studies, or of the old ones.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
The eudaimonist says that eudamonia is the aim of life and the ultimate end of practical reason. Eudaimonia is often translated as "happiness," but it's better understood asflourishing or functioning excellently as the kind of thing one is. Acting in accordance with certain virtues is thought to be both instrumental to and constitutive of flourishing or excellent functioning. Both Long and Vallier accept a version of the unity of the virtues thesis, according to which the content the virtues can be fixed only by reference to the content of the others.
My trouble is that it is hard to make sense of eudaimonia within a Darwinian worldview, and that there is no good argument to the effect that eudaimonia, whatever it is, ought to be the aim of action.
You are not an instance of a natural kind. You are a member of a genetic line. You have no essence. If you can be said to have a natural telos, it is to maximize inclusive fitness. But that is not only not in any sense a rationally mandatory aim, it's a completely stupid aim. Making copies of your genome is, in an important sense, what you are for. But it has next to nothing to do what what you ought to try to do with yourself.
Relatedly, there is no non-stupid natural fact of the matter about what it would mean for you to realize or fulfill your potential, or to function most excellently as the kind of thing you are.
The problem with his argument, as you may immediately see, is that humans are an instance of a natural kind, we do have an essence. Humans do have a natural telos, and it is not to maximize inclusive fitness. Moreover there is a non-trivial vision of what it would mean for humans to realize their potential, to function excellently, and it is central to what it means to act ethically. That is, without rejecting Darwinian biology or natural selection, I still have to reject the larger Darwinian worldview that Wilkinson takes as his starting premise.
Our tradition has good answers to these fundamental questions. That is, virtue ethics, as many have discovered, provides an ethical language that fits extremely well with Christian theology. My hope is thus that integrating virtue ethics with economics will help make progress integrating theology with economics.
Friday, February 3, 2012
In a competitive market, producers can be constrained to either participate in the market using the lowest-cost production methods, or not participate at all. This is why we like competition. This competition has a dark side, however, when low-cost production methods involve some sort of ethical compromise. In industries that are not competitive, producers might be said to bear some large amount of the moral culpability for legal but unethical production practices, but in competitive markets, it seems, we have to either maintain that no-one is culpable, or that the culpability is wider, encompassing the entire industry, and perhaps the government and consumers as well.
Ideally industry organizations or governments would regulate business practices so that competitive pressure is directed toward ethical production practices. This type of regulation, incidentally, is the topic of a paper abstract I have submitted to the ASE world congress. Absent this type of regulation, and especially when the state does not share all of the ethical convictions of a religious community, it seems that consumers, by paying attention only to prices and product quality, are morally complicit in, individually or collectively, the ethical harm. Even if one consumer cannot change the practices of an industry, they can support, with their dollars, alternative production methods.
John uses the contraceptive example, but my area of focus is, of course, the food industry. It would be odd to say that agriculture, and animal husbandry, is an industry that Christians should not participate in, and yet industrial animal agriculture, with all of it's ethical problems, is the only way to make a living for most farmers. Competition in the market for poultry and pork necessitates that farmers either sell at 50% above the market price, or adopt the standard industry practices. It is possible that similar arguments could be made about labor treatment in other agricultural markets as well. If we want to condemn these practices, and I do think we need to condemn some of them, then we will usually end up pointing fingers back at ourselves, either as consumers, for supporting firms that are competitive because they are unethical, or as voters, for not properly regulating these industries.
There is more to be said here. The biggest hole in this argument so far is that I have not discussed the possibility of industry self-regulation. I will have to deal with this in my paper, but it is a larger topic that would take me in a different direction.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
The University of Michigan won this year’s Sugar Bowl football game against Virginia Tech. This is the first time in many years that the Sugar Bowl (a BCS bowl game) has hosted two teams not ranked in the top ten. Many people thought that there were more worthy teams with better records that deserved to be in that game—Boise State, Kansas State, or maybe even Michigan State. But the invitations went instead to teams with lesser performance this season, but lots of “tradition” and reputations for selling lots of tickets and attracting lots of attention.
This controversy surfaces a set of issues that currently plagues discussions of economic issues, particularly inequality. Folks in positions of power in the business world contend that the enormous sums they receive are earned by their hard work, excellent skills, and sound judgment. They criticize rank-and-file workers who expect raises in line with productivity increases for having a “sense of entitlement”, expecting pay they have not earned. But the rank-and-file do not see the differences in pay as earned, particularly when they see executives rewarded for failure, and when many of them seem disconnected from their companies and their jobs. Rather, ordinary folks (the 90 percent, as the “Occupiers” would say) see the process of determining pay as akin to the process of BCS bowl invitations. The rewards don’t go to those who work hard and perform, but to those with the big titles, big reputations, and “tradition” (old school ties, family connections and the like).
Economic rewards in our society have become increasingly disconnected from performance, responsibility, skill, judgment, or any other reasonable justification over the last 30 years. Inequality has increased as a result. Ordinary people now perceive this. Unless the situation changes, there will be an increasing scramble for political and economic power at all levels of society, so that power can be translated into higher incomes. It will get ugly. The way to change the situation is to move toward a society in which economic rewards are in fact based on qualities that we want to encourage, rather than just on position, title, and tradition.
A good place to start, because of its symbolic value as much as its real effects, would be a big boost in the estate tax. But that’s an issue for another day.