Pilant's Business Ethics

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Tag: free will

mea culpa? (via hbd* chick)

The idea of the rational man has always been a bit of an exaggeration. However, it has been a useful idea. The American court system often rest on the idea of the “reasonable man.” And that idea has functioned well incorporating contemporary social beliefs informally into the legal system.

The idea of the rational buyer has permeated American economics. It has bizarre elements. For instance, it assumes that buyers make rational decisions even in the face of advertising. It assumes that buyers recalculate safety risks to maintain the same level of safety, etc. It also is useful, but mainly for protecting business from criticism.

It would be extremely difficult to develop a criminal justice system that takes a perpetrator’s reasoning into consideration. But that it is difficult does not mean it should be done. It would add depth and power to punishment and social control.

It needs development, but I think it can be done.

James Pilant

great article in the telegraph: “The human brain: turning our minds to the law” “Our understanding of the way the brain works could help us create a better legal system, says neuroscientist David Eagleman…. “The problem is that the law rests on two assumptions that are charitable, but demonstrably false. The first is that people are practical reasoners, which is the law’s way of saying that they are capable of acting in alignment with their b … Read More

via hbd* chick



I find stoicism an attractive philosophy. I suspect that has to do with the slings and arrows of an implacable fate falling with such regularity. Hanging tough may be the only thing many Americans (and all Japanese) can do.

It’s a nice essay. I hope you enjoy it. Maybe you can buy the book when it’s finished.

James Pilant

My book on the history of moral thought, due to be published next year by Atlantic, is beginning to take shape (I should hopefully have finished writing it by late summer / early autumn). Every month I am posting small sections from the book. This excerpt is from the conclusion of Chapter 3, which begins in Aristotle’s moral thought and ends in Stoicism. THE PHILOSOPHER ZENO WAS ONCE FLOGGING A SLAVE WHO HAD STOLEN SOME goods.  ‘But I was fated t … Read More

via Pandaemonium

Free Financial Choice?

I am what is call a compatibilist. Compatibilism is the belief that determinism and free will are compatible.

For many today, free will – free choices are terms of great import. “People should be able to fend for themselves.” “You shouldn’t count on the government.” “You should have read the fine print.” “They should have gone on the web and done their research like me.” “If only people would just get tough they could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.”

These are all statements based on the hard concept of free will or, as it is more often termed, personal responsibility.

One writer to me said, “How come you can’t get it into your head that …” discussing another point of personal responsibility. You see, such choice seems self evident, it’s not.

Here are my objections –
1. The weight of culture, that is, parenting, schooling and the influence of one’s peers.
2. Advertising, several trillion dollars worth of it, ranging from political to mercantile.
3. Time and aptitude, for someone to make a choice, they must know there is one, they must have the time necessary to digest the data and have the mental capability and far more importantly the mental desire. By mental desire I mean a willingness and often a pleasure in thinking and deciding.

In my mind, individuals have free choices, but only a certain number of these individuals can make different choices. You see I was trained in statistics and when you are in that field you are taught (and realize that it is true) that you have very little chance of predicting what any one person will do but analyze several thousand instead of one and you have a very good grip on what most of them will do.

Who makes choices and what proportion of the population makes choices? If you go to the market and watch someone buy bread, you’ll note that only occasionally will someone spend any time making a decision, they decided at some point in time what bread they wanted to buy and they buy that kind of bread. Even at the bread level of thought there is an inertia about making a new decision. Now you can go into that supermarket and look at all the bread every time. In other words, choose not to make a decision in advance but re-study the problem every time new data (in this case, bread) comes in.

Now, you probably would agree with me that the second choice of deciding each time taking the new data into account is the better decision. Are you sure? You see, both of you are choosing from the same products limited by the store’s choices. So, you could argue (and quite intelligently) that by limiting yourself to what the store sells keeps you from making the best decision. On the other hand you might also argue that shopping outside that store poses problems of time and resources (and you would also be quite intelligent in presenting your argument).

So, here is my argument. Choosing between one alternative and another involves judgment. For most people in most situations there are physical, cultural or mental limits on making the full range of judgments. So, we don’t have a full range of decision making possibilities but only a limited set. Thus, for almost all situations, we limited by one of the three factors, have only limited choices we can make.

If we have limited instead of unlimited choices, the question of what judgments people makes moves from what is the best decision to a different one – what is the best decision that could have been made amongst the choices remaining?

This puts me in a world where I have to look at what people are likely to do.

Example – Someone puts a payday loan business in lower middle class community. The company carefully chooses an area where the education level is a low as possible say an average of tenth grade. I can statistically predict how much business they will get based on the population, the amount and interest of the loans, etc. I, personally, will be offended at what I consider the exploitation of a population already under terrible economic stress.

If you on the other hand, assume total, not limited choice, these people are just a bunch of imbeciles, who couldn’t find their ass with a flashlight.

I believe that in this country there are a wide variety of legitimate choices in many fields, in many places, all the time. I work hard to give people the opportunity to make choices and I like to make them myself. But as long as I live in a world where the rule is limited choice not total, I’m going to sympathize with the people getting the pay day loans and suffering for it.

James Pilant

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