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December 04, 2007



Countless activities fall at least partly into this category: giving Christmas presents; protesting; religious observance; donating to charity; being a good parent; even dying for one's fellows.

Doesn't joining a political party (which includes some financial outlay, as well as demands for other kinds of assistance) "fall at least partly into this category" too?

(Membership may be declining, of course - but there are still plenty of people who do pay to join.)


It does - as does voting. The fact that both are in decline is, in part, a sign of the parties' declining attractiveness to the symblically motivated.

chris strange

In this sense, the parties are paying the price for abandoning ideals and becoming mere managerialists.

Which is a good thing as the market will then steer them back to having some kind of ideals or they will go bankrupt, unless they can use their power over the leavers of state to force us to give them money when we don't want to. A better voting system that didn't encourage the parties to try and occupy the same middle ground would be good as well.


There's a similar story to the NZ blood-donation example from Switzerland. "Would you be willing to have a toxic waste dump in your area if we paid you £5000 compensation?" actually got a *lower* Yes vote than "Would you be willing to have a toxic waste dump in your area?" The second example translates as "How public-spirited are you?"; the first, as "What's your price?"

michael webster

Nozick, I think, was trying to meet the traditional philosophical challenge made by the existence of instrinsic values. Values that are not valued for their instrumental worth.

Instrumental rationality as a theory faces a difficulty - how can I justify or rationally criticize the preferences I happen to have?

I don't think Nozick's solution works, nor do I think the introduction of second order preference helps.

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Another example is buying environmentally friendlier cars. The more common they become, the less useful it is to buy them "as a statement"


To use the voting analogy, I've always used a version of rationality (I think) that I rarely see described - how much will it cost me? If something will cost me little (say, some time to go to the polling station) but will overall produce a benefit overall, not necessarily for myself, then I'll go for it.

Similarly with giving to charity - it doesn't cost me much, as a proportion of what I have, to give a certain amount of money per month to a charity or two, but overall, added up with the contributions of others, there is a chance that a greater good will come out of it.

Ditto getting an environmentally friendly care. Ditto tipping at restaurants (the tip is worth more to the waiter than it will cost me).

I surely can't be the only person to think this way?

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