PoS seminar 29.9. with Johanna Thoma

At the Perspectives on Science seminar on Tuesday 29.9. Johanna Thoma (London School of Economics) will present her paper titled “Merely Means Paternalist? Prospect Theory and ‘Debiased’ Welfare Analysis.  The seminar will be organized as an online meeting in Zoom from 2-4 pm.  Zoom is an online conference tool supported by University of Helsinki.

Perspectives on Science is a weekly research seminar which brings together experts from science studies and philosophy of science. It is organized by TINT, the Centre for Philosophy of Social Science at the University of Helsinki. More information about the seminar here.

To join the seminar please contact tatu.nuotio(a)helsinki.fi or kaisla.kareoja(a)helsinki.fi. Information about using Zoom can be found here.

Author bio:
Johanna Thoma is an associate professor of Logic and Scientific Methodat the London School of Economics. Her work focuses on practical rationality and decision theory, economic methodology, and ethics and public policy.

Economics has traditionally been opposed to paternalism. However, the findings of behavioural economics have made popular one kind of paternalism that appears to be more innocuous: The kind of paternalism that respects an agent’s ends, or her non-instrumental, intrinsic valuations, and merely helps her purse them effectively. This paper discusses one prominent and initially promising way to inform means paternalist policies addressed at agents who violate expected utility theory (EUT), namely what I call ‘CPT debiasing’. It assumes the descriptive adequacy of cumulative prospect theory (CPT), which allows us to identify a utility function for the target agent. This is often thought of as providing us with a measure of her ends. We then plug this utility function into an expected utility calculation in order to determine a rational way for her to pursue those ends, which the means paternalist then imposes on her. This paper argues that CPT debiasing should be opposed on general anti-paternalist grounds, even if we grant the normative authority of EUT, the descriptive adequacy of CPT, and the idea that means paternalism is at least sometimes immune to general anti-paternalist concerns. First, this is because there are reasons to doubt that the utility function measured within a CPT framework provides us with a measure that isolates the agent’s non-instrumental values, or her ends. Second, even if it does, the resulting means paternalism is a problematic type of means paternalism that should be ruled out by the same considerations that motivate economists’ opposition to ordinary paternalism.

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