Sour Grapes aims to subvert orthodox theories of rational choice through the Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality · Jon Elster. Editions De La . This chapter evaluates Jon Elster’s Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality thirty-five years after publication. In the first section of the chapter. Sour Grapes has 53 ratings and 1 review. Mskabatas said: Anlamak için biraz sakin bir kafa ile okumak gerekiyor. Tümünü anlamasam da bazı konularda ileri.

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Contents 18th-century literature 15 British moralists 4 Classics 17 Darlington’s letters 19 Ethics 8 Favourite books 13 Philosophy 41 Politics 47 Random musings 96 Republicanism 17 Shaftesbury Jon Elster, Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, An example might be the approach of Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker to a phenomenon like addiction: After all, if the choice of smokers to smoke were completely irrational, then why is it that when the price of cigarettes goes up, their consumption goes down?

Economically, there is much about the behaviour of addicts that displays characteristics of rational economic choice. I would counter that this is correct to a certain extent, but that addictive products display a notable lack of demand elasticity — although demand falls when prices rise, the reaction of demand to price is much less sensitive than it is with, say, pickles or ice cream.

If the price of heroin goes up, although a few addicts may kick, many will simply steal more purses to keep up with the rise in price. Few turn to crime to support their taste for expensive ice cream. There are many good reasons not to accept a rational choice theory of addiction. For an excellent critique, see Rogeberg Ulysses and the Sirens very much concerns the difficulty of whose preferences are to be satisfied.

We might say that, in utilitarian or rational choice fashion, the preferences of all agents are to be given equal consideration. But Elster complicates this by showing us that each of those agents is composed of an indefinite number of intertemporal agents with possibly conflicting preferences, and with no clear cut indication of which of these selves is to have normative priority. Sour Grapes takes things to a deeper level.

Whereas economics pretends to be a descriptive rather than a prescriptive or normative science, Elster examines the nature of desires to demonstrate that it might not be so easy for economics to avoid normative prescriptions. To be more clear: Their task then becomes the technocratically straightforward one of figuring out how best to satisfy the greatest number of them.

By contrast, Elster shows that not all desires are worthy of being satisfied. Now, on the face of it this is nothing new; moral philosophers have been saying as much since the time of Socrates. But Elster is not just concerned with the immoral nature of some desires.

No economist in his right mind denies that satisfying the desires of sadists is on all fours with satisfying the desires of people with less perverted tastes. But the economist will try to parse this in terms of utility: But notice that they are still taken into account. This explanatory scheme might give economists some rationale for discriminating against the wants of sadists, although not on the grounds that the desires of sadists were wrong or immoral.


After all, if it so happened that sadists and masochists were evenly distributed in the population and could somehow be paired up, the economists might have to revise their judgment, and take the preferences of sadists and masochists seriously.

Indeed, his analysis implies that rationality is so easily subverted, that we ought not to put too much stock in the satisfaction of preferences at all, at least not unless we are willing to roll up our sleeves and examine the nature of the preferences we propose to satisfy. We tend to think that preferences have at least some minimal rational ordering. For example, it is comforting to believe that our preferences obey the law of transitivity: Path-Dependency and Context Dependency.

Often our preferences are path-dependent in that they are dependent on my previous history of choices and desires. In other words, they depend heavily on the temporal order in which choices are presented. Preferences are also context-dependent in that they are responsive to changes in the situational variables in the choice-context. So what is my real preference, the one that economists should be trying to figure out how to satisfy? One each of x, y and z is up for auction.

In this situation, I have the following preference ordering: The point is that our desires and preferences are closely tied to our previous experience and life history. For example, it is highly unlikely that I will have a preference for fine wines if no wine at all has ever passed my lips. If Ulysses and the Sirens demonstrated the importance of the time dimension in human preference, Sour Grapes demonstrates the importance of how preferences are formed.

Elster brings our attention to a phenomenon similar to sour grapes, which he calls adaptive preferences. The latter differs from the former in the fact that where the fox pretends not to like the grapes he cannot have, a person with an adaptive preference actually prefers precisely that which he can have over that which he cannot.

His preferences are formed out of his feasible set of choices. Nor is it necessarily a bad thing, for in countless cases it is a healthy response. After all, imagine how unbearable life would be if we continually felt discomfort at not having the things we want, given that we simply cannot have most of the things we want.

It seems only reasonable that our preferences be limited to some feasible set of options.

Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality – Jon Elster – Google Books

But adaptive preferences can also have a more sinister aspect. Can such preferences serve as a justification of the institution of slavery? In assessing this jonn they will presumably do a calculation of how well it satisfies the aggregate preferences of society, and within this aggregate, for the purposes of calculation, the desires of slaves are on all fours with — count for no more or less than — the preferences of masters.


Luckily for society, most economists have historically found slavery to be an inefficient institution. I should like to presume, dear reader, that your intuitions accord with mine in finding that the economist misses the main point. The preferences of the slaves, being adaptive in the worst dour, have been perverted.

Slaves tailor their desires to their feasible set, but that feasible set has been artificially and immorally limited by the masters. Much later on in the book, he elaborates this point: These, in the general case, are properties that cannot be immediately read off the wants themselves….

Rationality in the broad sense depends on the way elsyer which the states are actually formed.

Two individuals may be exactly alike in their beliefs and wants, and yet we might assess them differently from the point of view of rationality, judgment and autonomy. Sour Grapes is really a virtuoso performance, so far-reaching are the topics with which it deals with and the sources upon which it draws.

I mentioned in the previous post that Elster is an analytical Marxist. But even a Marxist is capable of speaking good sense from time to time. By way of an ending to this post, here are some other propositions Elster defends in Sour Grapespropositions that Marxists and indeed all social scientists must grapple with: There is no reason to suppose that beliefs shaped by a social position tend to serve the interests of the persons in that position p.

There is no reason to suppose that beliefs shaped by a social position tend to serve the interests of the ruling or dominant group p. There is no reason to suppose that beliefs shaped by interests tend to serve these interests p. There is no reason to suppose that beliefs which serve certain interests are also to be explained by those interests p.

Cambridge Philosophy Classics: Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality

It concerns itself with such phenomena as time-preference, time-inconsistency, and hyperbolic discounting. The Reason of Rules: Studies in Rationality, Precommitment, and Constraints. He even applies his ideas to film and jazz music. Moral Paradoxes of Nuclear Deterrence. Reasons and Persons Oxford: The Strategy of Conflict. Harvard University Press, A Cold War classic. Strategies of Commitment and Other Essays.

Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Yale University Press, They advocate a position they call “libertarian paternalism”, in which the powers that be should design better institutions and choice-situations so that people can make better decisions.

After reading it, I was left wondering why they bothered using the descriptor “libertarian”. Posted by Jamie Pratt at 3: Favourite booksPhilosophy. Unknown June 17, at 6: Jamie Pratt June 19, at Newer Post Older Post Home.