Don Ross speaks on the social philosophy of addiction

Friday 30 October 2015

Professor Don Ross, the first BPPE Visiting Fellow, spoke to the PPE Society on Wednesday evening 28 October following drinks and snacks.  His talk was on the social philosophy of addiction. In keeping with PPE he combined economics, philosophy and politics in his analysis along with a smattering of neuroscience.

Afterwards Don, the seminar course conveners and a few students had dinner at Blue Ginger.

Don Ross is the Dean of Management and Professor of Economics at the University of Waikato, New Zealand; Professor of Economics at the University of Cape Town; and Program Director for Methodology at the Center for Economic Analysis of Risk, Georgia State University. His research focuses on foundations of microeconomics, the experimental economics of addiction, risk, and time preference, the philosophy of science, and infrastructure, trade and industry policy in Africa.

His Talk

Economists - specifically Becker & Murphy - are responsible for an (in)famous model of 'rational addiction', according to which the best thing a policy-maker can do to promote the welfare of an addict is support measures that reduce the cost of her drug to her. Philosophers have rightly criticized the moral soundness of this. From a more technical point of view, one can object that it rests on identifying addictive behaviour with habitual behaviour, when the actual relationship is a very special kind of habitual behaviour, with special properties where welfare analysis is concerned. Economic theory, after recognizing this, struggles to fit addiction into any suitably subjectivist welfare model: it involves a direct conflict between learned valuation that is mediated by social expectations and learned valuation that isn't so mediated. Both learning processes yield unforced subjective preferences that conflict, so this isn't just another case of tension between individual preference and aggregate welfare. It rather goes to the heart of the conceptual relationship between people and their bodies, so involvement of philosophers in this policy discussion is obligatory.

 

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