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The Case for a Multiple-Utility Conception

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2008

Amitai Etzioni
Affiliation:
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Extract

In recent decades, neoclassical economists have made heroic efforts to accommodate within the confines of the concept of rational utility maximization the fact that individual behavior is significantly affected by moral considerations. This article argues the merits of using an alternative approach: recognizing that individuals pursue at least two irreducible sources of value or “utility”, pleasure and morality. The possibility that some additional utilities may have to be recognized is explored. This raises the concern that conceptual anarchy will break out, which in turn will force a search for a common denominator, and thus a return to one overarching utility. Arguments are presented to show that this concern is unfounded. The main focus of the article is a criticism of the monoutility conception and a brief for separating the sense of discharging one's moral obligations from all other satisfactions. The article first deals with general conceptual points, and then cites both everyday observations and empirical evidence in support of this position.

Type
Essays
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1986

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