How Many Concepts of Preference Are There?

It has been recently suggested to me that there might be a difference between the philosophical concept “preference” and social science concept “preference”. Since I am working in philosophy of the social science, getting such a distinction clear would be important for me. Given my area of work , I am especially in danger of mixing them up.

But I am not entirely convinced that there is such a distinction in the first place. In my notes I mainly distinguish a behaviourist-constructivist concept of preferences from mentalist-realist one. The distinction follows basically the 2016 paper by List and Dietrich, in which they argue for the mentalist-realist concept. You can very the exact formulations of these analyses, but the difference between the two concepts should be clear enough.

According to the behaviourist-constructivist approach preferences are nothing but logical constructions out of choice behavior. Preferences turn out to be mere re-descriptions of choice behaviour. If you always choose the orange over the apple, then this implies that you prefer oranges over apples. Many economists  apparently endorse such a concept of preferences, and so does Simon Blackburn in Ruling Passions. Therefore, the concept is used by social scientists and philosophers. One might argue that Blackburn only intends to reconstruct what social scientists are saying, but reading his text I get very much the impression that he buys into it. (On page 167 he notes that he would prefer to use the word “concern” rather than “preference”. He apparently endorses the concept, and only objects to the hedonist connotations associated with the word.)

On the mentalist-realist account preferences are real mental entities with causal efficacy. If you always choose the orange over the apple, this is evidence that you prefer oranges over apples, but it does not imply it. As soon as one endorses the mentalist position a myriad of questions arise within the ontology of mind. How are preferences realised? How can mental entities be efficacious at all? I am not going to say anything on these issues here and only note that List and Dietrich argued forcefully that the social sciences, and in particular economics, need such a mentalist concept of preferences for their explanatory purposes. Continue reading “How Many Concepts of Preference Are There?”

Task List 4

The purpose of this public task list can be found in the first one. The list is incomplete.

Accomplished Tasks:

  • Submit abstracts to various conferences.
  • Finish redrafting chapter 3 of my thesis.
  • Finish redrafting chapter 4 of my thesis.

Still Unfinished Tasks:

  • Practice calculating with matrices to better understand certain texts in the social sciences using statistics.
  • Read Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. (For a seminar, see also)
  • Look into publication of text at soziopolis.
  • Read Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds.

New Tasks:

  • Redraft chapter 5 of my thesis.
  • Read first part of Lewis’ “Counterparts of Double Lives” i.e. chapter four of Lewis’s The Plurality of Worlds. [UPDATE: Clarified scope of task]
  • Read Brian Skyrm’s Evolution of the Social Contract.

Note that just because a task is still unfinished does not mean that no progress has been made.

Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Eight

This post presents a question about chapter 8 of Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. For more information see this post.


On pages 161-162 Professor Dennett expresses his regret for certain formulations he used for presenting his position. The position in question is homuncular functionalism and Professor Dennett has come to regret the use of the terms “committee” and “machine” in presenting it. I can see, why he finds the term “committe” misleading. He is unhappy with the “cooperative bureaucracy” suggested by it. Continue reading “Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Eight”

Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Six

I have recently started reading Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. The area of research covered in this book is mostly foreign territory, but I am currently on a visit to Tufts and did not want to miss the opportunity to learn from one of its best known thinkers. I even used the opportunity to contribute comments on the book to an online forum for Tufts students. Continue reading “Dennett’s FBtBaB: Chapter Six”

What I Am Reading: Lynne Rudder Baker – Human Persons as Social Entities

Lynne Rudder Baker’s paper offers a sustained argument for what a number of people might have thought before and even proposed informally: Humans persons are social entities and therefore should be taken to be a part of social ontology.

Here is the Abstract of the paper:

The aim of this article is to show that human persons belong, ontologically, in social ontology. After setting out my views on ontology, I turn to persons and argue that they have first-person perspectives in two stages (rudimentary and robust) essentially. Then I argue that the robust stage of the first-person perspective is social, in that it requires a language, and languages require linguistic communities. Then I extend the argument to cover the rudimentary stage of the first-person perspective as well. I conclude by enumerating ways in which human persons differ from nonhuman animals.

Baker’s argument for this makes heavy use of her other works in metaphysics and especially those on personality. The main concepts are explained in this paper, but many questions might be left open, which can be answered by consulting her other work. As I see it, the outcome is a paper in which Baker justifies a thought, the thought that human persons are social entities, that is in the air by integrating the though into her own metaphysical system.

There are some worries, however, concerning her arguments for human beings as social entities. There are always some worries. Here are few: Continue reading “What I Am Reading: Lynne Rudder Baker – Human Persons as Social Entities”

Upcoming Talk: Corporations as Group Agents

Next week (on the 16th of June) I am going to present a paper on corporations as group agents at the 3rd International Conference Economic Philosophy in Aix-en-Provence. In the paper I am going to discuss the specific problems one faces when on tries to take corporations as group agents.

I am afraid that if you have not registered yet for the Conference, it is too late for that now. However, I hope that at some point my thoughts on this topic will have matured enough that they can be published.

We Are All Very Bad at Philosophy

I think that we are all very bad at philosophy, all of us, all human beings. This is not to say that there is no qualitative difference between different philosophical output. I have seen papers and books which were supposed to argue for a point and failed to do so in any epistemically justified way, while other papers and books provide genuinely insightful points in a convincing way. If I remember what I wrote as a bachelor student and what I write now, it is quite clear to me that there are important differences in quality. What I sometimes think is not that these differences do not matter, but rather that even though there are these differences, in the big picture they are small. Le me put it in the following way: While the difference between the good and bad actual philosophers are important, the difference between the best actual philosopher so far and the ideal potential philosopher is much greater. Continue reading “We Are All Very Bad at Philosophy”