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H. E. Baber
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I'd be interested in stats (or even reasonably educated guesses) about the percentage of atheists amongst clergy in various denominations. Is there any source of such info? The Dennett site seems geared to "preachers" from conservative churches who "lose their faith" and need a safe place to confide. I'm interested in something quite different, viz. clergy in liberal, mainline denominations who are theological non-realists: who interpret ostensibly supernaturalistic claims as being about something non-supernaturalistic or simply not being about. My impression is that they are a large minority, or even majority, of clergy in my mainline denomination. And don't share the worries of Dennett's atheist clergy because they sincerely believe that non-realist theology is what churches should be promoting--that their job is in part one of weaning hoi polloi in the pews from supernaturalism and gently nudging them into what they believe are more sophisticated views.
I agree that Weil was a nutcase and that that muddies the waters. The problem with this case is that it's so fantastical. Moreover it's corrupted by intuitions about the Reaper's paternalism by the Reaper.
I grant that. In general pumping intuitions in puzzle cases is never decisive. One man's body-exchange miracle is another's amnesia-cum-radical-character-revision story. Intuition-fitting is a sideshow, though it's a sideshow in which I'm now interested. On the standard account, as you suggest, having options is insurance against future desire-frustration. It's reasonable to buy insurance because our tastes and circumstances might change. But if insurance doesn't pay off it doesn't benefit us. On kind of account, the intuition that having options make us better off is just a special case of risk-aversion. For my purposes the Weil case is exactly on point because because it seems to me absolutely intuitive that she was better off than her co-workers in virtue of having options they didn't have, and not just because she knew she had those options but solely in virtue of having them. Asking around, in the spirit of experimental philosophy, some like me had this response but others thought it was off the wall. Which is intriguing. My arm chair conjecture is that it depends on how one views life and approaches decision-making. If you're in a strong position I think you're less likely to consider constraints before deciding on a course of action: it's only if and when it doesn't pan out that you experience frustration. If you're less well off you see the world as a system of constraints and before deciding on a course of action map out the narrow range of options that are feasible. Constraint is always in your face and you perceive it, the dearth of possibilities, in and of itself as a source of frustration. Just empirical conjecture.
It's a challenge to traditional economists' assumptions about rational decision-making rather than to any account of well-being as such. If we had perfect information AND the ability to process all that information instantaneously we'd be better off knowing about all our options (and having as many as possible). The second strategy (suppressing information) is a response to information overload and weakness of will. Faced with all those rugs we get confused and need a mechanism for filtering out noise. Moreover, satisficing takes self-discipline if we aren't lucky enough to be slobs who just don't care: there's always the temptation to flout the stopping rule and look at one more rug. I think the puzzle is weakness of will, but that puzzle isn't peculiar to the account of well-being I'm suggesting. We intentionally restrict our options, or depend on others to do so, for the same reason we check into fat-farms. Also I think puzzlement comes from the hedonistic tug: what good are all those options doing me if I don't know about them, experience pleasure at having them? But preferentists already hold that states that don't figure in experience can harm or benefit us so this isn't a big jump.
Sorry I was, um, joshing about entrapment. I do claim that ceteris paribus more options are better. To deal with the "paradox of choice" a common recommendation is to adopt a satisficing strategy with a stopping rule: "when I find an option that's good enough, that's where I stop." Another common strategy is to limit the number of options that are salient. Stock case: the options with M$Word are almost endless, but the menus only show a small subset. Nevertheless consumers buy Word because they value those almost endless options--including also the option of restricting the menus and toolbars so that the options aren't all in their face. Here is a real case. I went with a friend to a rug place where there were perhaps 2000 oriental rugs on display in piles sorted by size. The guy who ran it wasn't getting much business so, in desperation, he and his assistant spent almost 3 hours turning up heavy rugs from the relevant piles for us while we, in the grip of the paradox of choice, deliberated. Classic case. After we'd become quite friendly (and after my friend finally bought a rug) I offered the Wisdom of Behavioral Economics. Here's how you improve sales. Build a partition. Put most of the rugs in the back room and a manageable number of of representative rugs on display. Empirical studies show this works. The guy said, what if they don't want any of those rugs. Well, I said, then you tell them there are more in the back room. Granted this just pushes the problem back but this is the Micro$oft strategy and it works because it in effect forces most consumers to satisfice. Cutting to the chase, the pragmatic issue of coping with bounded rationality, recognizing the costs of search and deliberation, and the tendency of consumers to be flumoxed by too many options, isn't at issue here I'd argue.
Josh, that's a trap: I would in fact like to have more options even if I weren't aware of having them but I'm taking the hard line that what makes them valuable isn't that I actually want to have them. Any preferentist would say. The stories anyway are a side-show: I have independent theoretical reasons for arguing that we should recognize the value of mere possibilities. And feminism isn't driving the project so I readily grant that there are other reasons to want a wider range of career options open to both men and women. I'm mainly interested in brute intuitions here. It's easy enough to explain away the intuition that mere possibilities contribute to well-being. In most cases it could be explained as risk-aversion: I don't now want S but I want the possibility of getting S as insurance against changes in my circumstances or preferences. It's reasonable to buy insurance but it doesn't benefit one unless it pays off on this account. What puzzles me is that a significant number of people don't seem to have the intuition in the first place--while others do. But there does seem to be a clash of brute intuitions. I've never been a fan of justice, "autonomy" or rights and my brute intuition is that even if (1) - (3) are met I'd still be worse off than if I in fact had more options. Arguably states of affairs that don't enter into experience can harm or benefit us--that seems to be the most compelling reason to be a preferentist rather than a hedonist. BTW many thanks for this discussion--I'm in the middle of doing the dread "major revisions" on a paper and they've been very helpful.
Thanks for the link. I do know this literature--Schwartz's book, The Paradox of Choice is a nice introduction. What the results of this research show however is that the salience of many options, particularly for individuals who adopt maximizing rather than satisficing strategies, creates difficulties and undermines well-being. It isn't having lots of choices but having them in your face.
Yes, but I'm not thinking of the tricky free-will cases because I'm quite happy with determinism. The relevant cases concern straight-forward external constraints. I never seriously wanted to be anything but a philosophy professor and got what I wanted (tenured, and no regrets). But I still stew over the fact that as a woman there is a whole range of blue-collar guy jobs I couldn't get: the absence of those possibilities makes me worse off. That, I think, is the core issue of feminism: the extent to which sex roles, particularly as they figure in the labor market, restrict the options of both men and women and, if I'm correct, make both worse off. Comparable to your case, suppose I've never wanted to be anything but a kindergarten teacher for a few years and then a housewife. I get that and am happy. I don't know that there are a great many jobs I couldn't get: I believe the pious tommyrot about how I "could be anything." It still seems to me clear that ceteris paribus I would have been better off if I had more options. Or, if you don't like feminism, consider a mute inglorious Milton raised in a "traditional society" where sons follow their fathers' occupations, have their marriages to cousins arranged by relatives and never travel more than 20 miles from their native villages. My father's occupation suits me, I love my cousin and have no interest in travel. It has never even occurred to me that there are lots of other options that aren't available to me. I'm happy as a clam but ceteris paribus I would still be better off if I had a wider range of options. "Traditional societies" are lousy. This I recall was also Engles' intuition (cited by Elster) regarding the Industrial Revolution and migration from "cozy" rural villages to cities where, however miserable and frustrating life was, the range of possibilities benefitted migrants.
(1) Yes. And I find it absolutely intuitive. Consider Simone Weil who took a factory job in order to share the experience of the oppressed masses. One of her biographers notes that she couldn't because the mere possibility that she could quit (without starving) made her immeasurably better off. Hedonic considerations don't fly here--the recognition that she could walk whenever she chose didn't make her feel any better and all evidence suggests that, given her temperament, clumsiness, poor health and feverish neuroticism she was probably much more miserable than any of her proletarian co-workers. (2) Following Sen, "bad, awful and gruesome" possibilities don't make me better off--only those that are of some value (and let's leave it open what makes them of value). My take, with which Sen would likely disagree, is that what makes them of value is their being fairly high on my preference ranking. So, even though I hit the utility jackpot by getting an academic job, the mere possibility that I could have been a lawyer or computer programmer makes me better off whereas the mere possibility that I could have been a Walmart cashier or waitress doesn't make me better off. (3) By "effective freedom" I take it Sen et. al. mean feasibility.