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The Adaptation Problem, Evolution and Normative Economics

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  • Mozaffar Qizilbash

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Mozaffar Qizilbash, 2007. "The Adaptation Problem, Evolution and Normative Economics," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2007-08, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
  • Handle: RePEc:esi:evopap:2007-08
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Mozaffar Qizilbash, 1997. "A weakness of the capability approach with respect to gender justice," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 9(2), pages 251-262.
    2. Qizilbash, Mozaffar, 1998. "The Concept of Well-Being," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 14(01), pages 51-73, April.
    3. Mozaffar Qizilbash & David Clark, 2005. "The Capability Approach and Fuzzy Poverty Measures: An Application to the South African Context," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 74(1), pages 103-139, October.
    4. Qizilbash, Mozaffar, 2006. "Capability, Happiness and Adaptation in Sen and J. S. Mill," Utilitas, Cambridge University Press, vol. 18(01), pages 20-32, March.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. Amartya Sen & Bina Agarwal & Jane Humphries & Ingrid Robeyns, 2003. "Continuing The Conversation," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(2-3), pages 319-332.
    8. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mozaffar Qizilbash, 2009. "Well-Being, Preference Formation and the Danger of Paternalism," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2009-18, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    2. Christian Schubert, 2012. "Is novelty always a good thing? Towards an evolutionary welfare economics," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 22(3), pages 585-619, July.
    3. Mozaffar Qizilbash, 2011. "Sugden’s critique of Sen’s capability approach and the dangers of libertarian paternalism," International Review of Economics, Springer;Happiness Economics and Interpersonal Relations (HEIRS), vol. 58(1), pages 21-42, March.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    adaptation; preferences; utilitarianism; capability; evolution; happiness Length 21 pages;

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