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Unformatted text preview: "his luct hec :ion )pe( Irgu nod hint atio athe ustii :xple :pec nain if ihi atio md i ibria uppe I rigr look, me u 8 Chapter 1 to add another country to his list of conquests; or to an athlete who i attempts to break her own record once more. in fact, we seem to be surrounded by people who seek goals precisely because they may not be attainable and who lose interest in them as soon as they are proven feasible. All of the characters Camus thinks of as “absurd” are of this type. You may also find reasonable people who tell you that the goal doesn’t really matter, it is the road that matters. Zen philosophy might be a source of inspiration for this line of thinking. And if you’re inter— ested in the way to a goal rather than in the goal itself, you may prefer a goal that is unattainable. That is, it will be desirable because it is not feasible. Do these examples confound desirability and feasibility? Not neces— sarily. There are several distinct issues in these examples, and some are simple to incorporate in the standard model of rationality, pro— vided the alternatives are defined appropriately. Suppose, first, that you observe me devouring peanuts. Are you going to conclude that I enjoy having many peanuts in my stomach? Probably not. It will be more reasonable to assume that l derive pleasure from the taste of pea— nuts rather than from their weight in my stomach. That is, I enjoy the act of consuming peanuts rather than the state of having them. Simi— larly, i can enjoy swimming in the pool or strolling in the woods with— out trying to get anywhere. Next consider a traveler who wishes to visit as many places as possi— ble. He enjoys traveling but derives no pleasure from a daily stroll in the woods. He finds a known place less desirable than a new one. However, he does not seek a new place because it may not be feasible to get there; he simply enjoys the discovery, being somewhere for the first time. This phenomenon is also within the scope of rational choice as previously described. As in the case of consuming peanuts, the car- rier of utility is the act rather than the final state. Also, in this case the pleasure derived from an act is history—dependent. The mathematician’s example is a little more complicated. As in the case of devouring peanuts, the mathematician enjoys the act more than the state. As in the case. of the traveler, the mathematician also seeks the pleasure of a discovery and enjoys the act only the first time. But, as opposed to the previous examples, the mathematician enjoys a solution more, the harder is the problem. That is, she desires a con— quest more, the less it appears feasible at first sight. What distinguishes lam" frmn Crmwhn Marx. then? Feasibility and Desirabilit'y 9 The answer is not obvious. One may argue that mathematicians, like athletes, enjoy a certain type of exercise and cannot derive pleasure from exercise that requires no effort. According to this account, they do not desire an achievement because it may not be feasible; they sim— ply need to feel their muscles flexed, as it were, to enjoy the solution. Alternatively, you may decide that a mathematician’s or an athlete’s career is not rational enough for you. As will always be the case, you will make the final decision about what is rational for you. 1.6 On Theories and Paradigms The previous two sections may seem like mental acrobatics. Rather than admitting that the definition of rationality involving separation of desirability from feasibility is very restricted, we come up with redefi- nitions of concepts to save the principle we were trying to promote. ls this honest? And is there anything that could not be classified as ratio— nal by some appropriate redefinition of terms? Theories are supposed to be refutable, and when they are refuted, we should be honest enough to admit that. However, part of the mer— chandise we are trying to sell is not a specific theory, but a paradigm, a system of thought, a way of organizing the world in our minds. A paradigm consists of certain more or less formal, idealized terms, but, as opposed to a specific theory, it leaves some freedom in the way these terms are mapped onto real life phenomena. Thus, what gives pleasure to the mathematician is flexible enough to be changed from ”being able to prove a theorem” to ”finding a proof for a theorem that has not been known before.” Throughout this book there are examples of such redefinitions. The rational choice paradigm will often be useful and insightful even when particular theories of rational choice may fail. This is, in fact, why the book is called Rational Choice rather than the more common ”Rational Choice Theory”: in the social sciences it is often hard to come up with theories that are both useful and accurate. But there are. many insights and organizing principles that change the way we think about the world. The focus in this book is on the latter. ...
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