« Indic Philosophical Schools: A Basic Bibliography | Main | Should Progressives Oppose Obama? »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

You might think more carefully before characterizing Goodin's argument as "stupid" or a "social burden" argument (with regard to the costs of smoking), as it is nothing of the kind. Rather, it has to do with rationality and individual preferences and the larger society's endeavor to come out in favor of (support, encourage, buttress) the rational preferences expressed by the "later" or "better" self of the individual, i.e., preferences the individual himself or herself will (or would) have at a later point in time. It is about individual utilitarian or consequentialist (and hedonic) calculations in the first instance. The individual smoker reasons poorly owing to myopia, hyperbolic time discounting involving the preference for instant gratification (and present consumption), probably in conjunction with other well-known debilitating psychological phenomena (e.g., denial, self-deception), something he or she belatedly appreciates with the onset of smoking-related illness(es). The policy maker takes into consideration the more rational preferences of the "later" self as it were.


The stupidity of the smoker-as-social-burden argument might be illuminated by repeating the argument with some word substitutions:

“’While [the breeder] may antecedently suppose that the pleasures of breeding outweigh the risks of pain, there is every reason to suppose she would think otherwise should she or the baby suffer death or a permanent injury—not just in the sense that anyone who gambles and loses wishes she had never gambled at all, but more importantly in the sense that she had badly underestimated the pains associated with losing the gamble. Policy makers who foresee this preference shift would, following retrospective rationality, be perfectly justified in prohibiting, limiting, or discouraging breeding.”

The difference in the two is that I don't subsidize the smoker who wins, while I continue to subsidize the breeder who wins, in that I pay in taxes for health care and education for 18 or more years for even a healthy child and the smoker who dies young forgos many years in SS and Medicare benefits. I say: ban breeding and encourage smoking.

The comments to this entry are closed.