The Adaptation Problem, Evolution and Normative Economics
Amartya Sen has advanced a number of distinct arguments against utilitarianism and ‘utility’-based views more generally. One of these invokes various ways in which underdogs can ‘adapt’ and learn to live with their situations. Sen’s argument is related to Jon Elster’s discussion of ‘adaptive preferences’ but is distinct in part because Sen cites the need for underdogs to survive. When read in combination with his discussion of Darwinism, Sen’s discussion of adaptation is relevant to recent work in normative economics which is influenced by evolutionary biology. It poses a problem for Richard Layard’s book on happiness, particularly its policy conclusions. It also poses a problem for Ken Binmore’s account of justice because the empathetic preferences in terms of which interpersonal comparisons are made in Binmore’s account are formed through social evolution.
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- John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434-434.
- Ken Binmore, 1998. "Game Theory and the Social Contract - Vol. 2: Just Playing," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 2, number 0262024446, January.
- Amartya Sen & Bina Agarwal & Jane Humphries & Ingrid Robeyns, 2003. "Continuing The Conversation," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(2-3), pages 319-332.
- John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309-309. Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)