Jesus Was Considering Opening a Bread and Fish Business, But...

I offer again Mises' characterization of choice:

"All human values are offered for option. All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another. Nothing that men aim at or want to avoid remains outside of this arrangement into a unique scale of gradation and preference." -- Human Action

Mises is explicitly stressing the notion that there is one kind of choice, and that all choices pick out an item from a "unique scale" of preferences. Collingwood say, "No, moral choices are of a distinct type from economic choices, although they are both purposeful."

If we adopt Mises' view, we have to picture Jesus surveying an array of possibilities, engaged in considerations like:

"Well, I certainly have a great absolute advantage at producing loaves and fishes. And I do think that Galilee offers tremendous opportunities for opening a chain of loaf and fish stores. On the other hand, just how much utility will I really gain from that whole 'dying on the cross' business?"

I think Collingwood wins.

14 comments:

  1. Wait, does this mean that all non-moral choices are ones that way "utility"?

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    1. I recommend reading Collingwood's paper to understand his view here.

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  2. Mises' view seems irrefutable in one sense. Jesus chose to die on the cross instead of manufacturing loaves and fishes. He had the option to do either and he chose the former.

    I think I see what you are getting at, though. While there may be a sense in which it is formally correct to say that a moral person chooses a moral act because he "prefers" it to the alternatives, it is more accurate to say that he chooses the moral act because it is moral, and the alternatives don't even come into play.

    In practical life, however, we frequently face choices that require us to balance doing what feels good, doing what makes (economic) sense, and doing the right thing. It's clear that some people have a general preference to do the right thing, but can be swayed to do the wrong thing with a hefty enough incentive. Doesn't this argue for Mises' view that, in practice, we do "stack rank" moral preferences against other types?

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    1. "Mises' view seems irrefutable in one sense. Jesus chose to die on the cross instead of manufacturing loaves and fishes. He had the option to do either and he chose the former."

      Yes, and Collingwood doesn't deny that either.

      "It's clear that some people have a general preference to do the right thing, but can be swayed to do the wrong thing with a hefty enough incentive. Doesn't this argue for Mises' view that, in practice, we do "stack rank" moral preferences against other types?"

      Well, Collingwood say that in those cases, they acted economically and chose to ignore the "call of duty." So, some people calculate utility when they ought to be thinking of right and wrong!

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    2. Doesn't this argue for Mises' view that, in practice, we do "stack rank" moral preferences against other types?

      Only if you stretch the idea of knowing one act is more moral than another and acting on that knowledge to be weighing base preferences.

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    3. Aquinas spoke of human acts as those acts of humans which start with the end in mind, that is, as purposeful behavior. But he stressed that while some human acts can be assessed in non-moral or technical, ALL human acts are subject to moral appraisal. ALL of them. This is where Mises and especially Rothbard are tragically wrong and wrong headed. And this is why Rothbardians must necessarily support what ought to be repugnant to Bob Murphy and Tom Woods: child and elderly abandonment, markets for babies, etc., etc..

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    4. "So, some people calculate utility when they ought to be thinking of right and wrong!"

      What if they are hedonists or egoists?

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    5. Holding a bad moral theory doesn't get you off the hook!

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    6. Holding a bad moral theory doesn't get you off the hook!

      I'm saying that from the perspective of a hedonist or an egoist or a utilitarian, the distinction doesn't make much sense.

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    7. "I'm saying that from the perspective of a hedonist or an egoist or a utilitarian, the distinction doesn't make much sense."

      Right you are: but they are mistaken. From the point of view of someone who thinks the earth rests on the back of a turtle, orbiting it in a spacecraft doesn't make much sense, either... but why should we care (except perhaps to educate them)?

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  3. What's amusing about all this is how it illustrates the Ironic failure of Austrian "introspection.". Most people think about how moral obligation overrides their immediately felt preference. It takes work to convince yourself that you prefer in a simple way missing the concert to rush the stranger collapsed on the sidewalk to hospital. We see here the triumph of ideology and pigeon-holing over that introspection they claim as the basis of so much of their theory.

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  4. Here is my (first of many?) response to Gene on this stuff. Gene, you are going to be tempted to say, "Murphy doesn't even get the distinction I am making, argh!" but that would be premature. I get what you are saying, and my point is that Mises is saying all moral and (traditionally) economic choices can be subsumed in the category of purposeful behavior. You admit that Collingwood agrees. So it's not that Mises is wrong and Collingwood is right. There is nothing weird about imagining Jesus considering whether He gets more satisfaction from obeying His Father versus eating a pizza; if He didn't think like that, He wouldn't be human.

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  5. Over on Bob's blog, MF said: "He recognized the praxeological nature of the very concept you yourself just utilized and presumed as obvious and trivial, namely CHOICE."

    I'm not sure how choice relates to anything here. Is this just narrow-minded economism?

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  6. My characterization stands: what Mises meant in rejecting homo economicus was that people didn’t only focus on monetary or material things. But what he did with that truth was to turn *all* choices into forms of economic calculation: see the passage I cite.

    How is that a rejection of "homo economicus"? That sounds like taking it and running with it?

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