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Comment Edward E McClennen James Buchanan has treated us to a most interesting and provocative analysis of what he regards as a crucial problem facing modern, affluent society. Like himself, I find the game matrices on which he bases much of his analysis to be both interesting and suggestive. But I find myself somewhat in disagreement with him about the merits, from the point of view of a calculus of rational choice, of player A attempting a "strategic" as opposed to a "pragmatic" approach to the sequential version of the first matrix. There is a problem of parity of reasoning here, which might lead one to the (I assume) unwanted conclusion that player B should also play "strategically," in which case the joint prescription would call for a deadlock on the outcome (1,1). Perhaps, however, the asymmetrical feature of the game, viz., that player A has a strongly dominating strategy, is designed to take care of this problem. But no such asymmetry obtains in the case of his second matrix, and I find his analysis here much less convincing. Parity of reasoning leads in this case directly into a "prisoner's dilemma" situation. My own sense is that the "reasonableness" of his prescriptions hinges to a much greater extent than he admits upon the moral force of the terms "samaritan" and "predator (parasite)" which he introduces subsequently in his paper. Since the matrices are themselves silent on the question of the moral credentials of the players, we can, for example, imagine that player A, in the first matrix, is a tyrant whose past successes have brought him so much affluence that he is now in danger of going "soft," while player B is some 133 134 • ALTRUISM, MORALITY, AND ECONOMIC THEORY group of his subjects, who have awakened to this possibility and are contemplating putting pressure on him to force him to ease their burden. If, as Buchanan suggests, his prescriptions really flow from the (neutral) game matrix itself, they are dispensable in this case also, although we may choke a bit more at this medicine when we cast ourselves into the role of advisors to sagging tyrants rather than decent folks. And, following through the logic of his argument, we could then come to the conclusion that not only has modern, affluent man become incapable of making the choices that are required to prevent his exploitation by predators of his own species, he has also become less able to make the choices which are required if he is to be an effective predator upon members of his own species. Contrary to what the economists here might expect from a moral philosopher, I do not want to exploit this point. I happen to share Buchanan's passion for looking at things from the point of view of a calculus of rational choice, and I have had to defend myself all too often from those who are eager to point up the moral ambiguities of such an approach to inflict this sort of criticism on my colleague. I mention the problem of ambiguity, i.e., different ways of conceiving the relation between the two players in the first game, because it prepares the way for what I hope you will agree with me is a more sub~tantial criticism, viz., that there is considerably more that can and needs to be said about the very (putatively) decent (potential) samaritans and (putatively) exploitive parasites upon which he has chosen to focus his analysis. I suggest that the first matrix is ambiguous in a much more startling way than my example of the tyrant-gone-soft would suggest. If we listen to what some of the more articulate spokesmen of Buchanan's parasitical types have to say, we find, not (as we might expect) that they conceive of themselves as exploited (as opposed to exploiting) persons in the role ofplayer B; rather, we find that they conceive of themselves as exploited persons in the role of player A. In short, many of them would accept Buchanan's interpretation of the situation in terms of matrix in Figure 1, and also accept his prescription: their only quarrel with him would be over the question of which position in the game they occupy. Let me try to illustrate what I have in mind with an (abstract) concrete example, viz., that of a confrontation between university officials and dissident students. Figure 3 represents what I take to be the way in which the university officials...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781610446792
Related ISBN
9780871546593
MARC Record
OCLC
908573169
Pages
242
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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