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Eudaemonic Pie
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LeVon, Some good responses. Inter-linearly: You wrote - “But self-interest per se is spoken of as a good (or maybe I’ve been reading these posts wrongly) ....” I saw your Smith quote. And I’ll get to it shortly. Self-interest is a good only to the same extent that any other fiction serves its purpose. For example, the “reasonable person” standard in tort law is a fiction. A legal fiction. There is no specific “reasonable person” sitting around in a bar or a church somewhere. The judge instructs the jury to judge a case based on a “reasonable person” standard. And gives a few more instructions for what this legal fiction means. But, not too many more instructions because we trust the jury to judge in fidelity to this fiction - the legal fiction - of a “reasonable person.” The “reasonable person” is a good because it is a good fiction in helping juries know how to judge. The same holds for the fiction of “self-interest” in economics. Except that economics uses more powerful measurements to tell whether “self-interest” is working well as a fiction to describe behavior. And self-interest in the market is a testable fiction for the market as a whole. Individuals may depart from acting according to this fiction. Significantly. And incur moral blame or praise. From Theresa to Madoff. Self-interest is only as good as it behaves in real life across a whole market. Self-interest is not an economic good in the same sense as a universal, normative, categorical moral judgment. And self-interest as a market fiction may need to be tossed someday. Or modified. If some individuals happen like the self-interest fiction because it overlaps with their libertarian theology, then this needs to be taken up separately from self-interest as a market function. Now, your Smith quote - “Men, though naturally sympathetic, feel so little for another, with whom they have no particular connexion, in comparison of what they feel for themselves; the misery of one, who is merely their fellow creature, is of little importance to them in comparison even of a small conveniency of their own.” This is dicta. It may be true. But it’s still dicta because it’s not necessary to the “self-interest” fiction as a measurable quantity in economics. It’s at least party false biologically. Because biology has shown by pretty invariable equations that kin-selected-reciprocal altruism extends care beyond the individual in self-sacrificing behaviors. With a little psychological priming, the question for economics is whether the market - as a market - might prompt a weaker form of such altruism. Neither Jesus nor Ayn Rand are relevant to these hard core measurements. On the resurrection: I’m sorry that my language was worse than unorthodox, that is, it was too vague and cloudy. My main point was that the Resurrection is a limit condition against an eternal suffering in repeated, endless crucifixions. This is debatable because open theists torque God’s suffering as both real and ongoing. So I don’t want to press this. Too much. I almost included comments like your comments about the Garden. And the almost unlimited freedom to take and eat freely. I think that’s really one (not the only) central paradigm for examining whether ‘self-interest’ has any relevance to in intersection between economics and the Divine. Think: bounded self-interest. There was a limit. You wrote - “what I’m heading toward is that self-interest is way too narrow a scope for understanding how people live, love, obey God, disobey God, or even buy light bulbs.” Yes. I agree. But the market as a market (the market is just an abstracted aggregate from the population) may still function in behaviors according to axioms of self-interest as formally defined. Or, as fictionally defined. Once again, however, the burden is on you or me to articulate an alternative metric (based on your theological anthropology) that could be tested in the market place. And to propose this alternative as a hypothetical (testable). Not just as an untestable concept of all inclusive speculation. On randomness: my wording was terrible. My point about randomness was only that you cannot really measure departures from your norm without stating the norm that you think does describe human economic behavior. I should have just said, “okay, then state your hypothetical alternative to ‘self-interest’ as the better way to measure and see if people really act that way - act according to your alternative statement.” That would have been enough. You wrote – “ .. randomness, I’m not really interested in developing another abstraction. What I am interested in is fostering language among Christians which makes their faith in God and way of living that faith intelligible to that which has traditionally been called “the world.” I don’t see “self-interest” as being helpful.” This is totally fair. Nothing wrong with that goal. Nothing, at all. My interest, on the other hand, is to test whether your “intelligible” alternative makes any real difference in the behaviors of people who hold it dear. What if you spun out a fairly fast and frugal and intelligible alternative language to “self-interest” – say language life ‘self-giving love,’ and if you pointed us to a community in existence today who practice this alternative ethic – what if the same mathematics used currently for economic self-interest still described the real life behaviors of this alternative economy? - so that this alternative economy used different verbal formulae (self-giving love’) to describe their economy, but the way the really behaved was not measurably any different from ‘self-interest’? What then? Your final question – “.. would you be willing to use the language of self-interest to describe your relationship with your significant other, your family relations. Would you say to your spouse, ‘I’m in this relationship because I want something from you and I’m willing to give something in return to get it’? Are our relationships merely transactions?” Wow. That’s almost unanswerable. Almost. First, I use other languages to describe my intimate relationships with family and closest friends. I look for the misty look in their eyes. I hear the music in their voices of warm and loving greetings. I feel the common warmth of a smile and even of hard-jesting and roasting me for my foibles – at a shared dinner. I feel happy and really thankful for the willing hands to help me pull my 4x4 truck out of deep desert sand. I use the language of generosity, love, and thanks for these awesome experiences. In fact, I go by feel much more than by any language for these intimate relationships. Just like anybody else. But this does not stop economists nor biologists from analyzing these same behaviors and showing that my behaviors fit with the equations that measure self-interest and biological altruism. And I’m not offended in the least by these measurements. Nor offended by these alternative languages. I know these things are not God. Just tools. At best. And that’s all: tools. Are our “relationships merely transactions?” No, of course not. I can have a solo relationship with a sunset that blows me away. Or sit in Silence all alone in my closet with the Spirit. Like I do daily. A relationship with One. But these relationships are analyzable as transactions. And the question whether theology really (I mean really) makes any difference to these relationships – say whether religious marriages are any more or less for convenience with religion as a mere artifact and conceit – these are factual questions. Not theoretical questions. Whether one is a consequentalist or a deontological moralist or a spiritual charismatic anarchist, makes no difference to whether these behaviors all look the same when measured. And there’s the rub.