To Prefer or Not to Prefer

There is more than one view of how people should or do act. The view in consumer theory is that people have preferences over bundles, that is, over the goods that they consume. One can enlarge that view to include preferences over the well being of others. For instance, I give charity because I value the well being of the recipient of the charity.

Here are two other views of how people relate or ought to relate:


Meditation XVII. John Donne.

"The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth: and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to G_d. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or thine own were.. Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (page 1213 of the Norton Anthology of English Literature. Volume 1. WW Norton & Co. 1974)

Leviticus. XIX-7.

And when you reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corner of thy field, neither shalt you gather the gleaning of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard: thou shalt leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord your G_d. (Hertz)

Can you square these views with some form of preferences or do they lie outside the realm of preference theory?


How Wide A Scope for This Preference Theory?

Would you use the word, prefer, to describe the actions of an alcoholic or a drug addict. Would you say, "she prefers alcohol to food?" If you said that, would you still want to influence the addict to change their behavior? Does your answer depend upon the damage addicts do to other people? If it does, consider the poster-girl addict: she hurts no-one but herself and dies with enough money in her pocket for her own burial. Do you subscribe to the view that if a person thinks their choice makes them better off then you (and the rest of society) ought also think that the person's choice makes them better off? Do you have the same problems answering these questions for a person who chooses cauliflower rather than broccoli?


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