chapter  13
17 Pages

The possibility of a welfare policy in a world of emotion- driven individuals: a Humean point of view ANDRé LAPIDUS

The problem Let us leave aside some questions of utmost importance, like externalities, intertemporal inconsistencies or strategic behavior, which all govern the reachability of an optimal state resulting from the interactions between individuals. Such an intellectual operation helps putting to the fore what has not been eliminated, a seemingly trite assumption which underlies the very idea of what is usually called “liberalism of happiness”: each individual is interested in obtaining the greatest possible happiness and, taking into account his information, cognitive ability and constraint, he reaches the best available situation. It’s not that easy to imagine that things might happen otherwise. That is, that although such an individual has a clear enough intuition of what his greatest knowledge might be, although he is clever enough, provided with relevant information and not submitted to any particular constraint, he might deliberately decide to choose an allocation which would take him away from a greater happiness. It is not that easy, because the conception of this individual would mix up two contradictory approaches: a welfarist approach, clearly involved in liberalism of happiness, and a non-welfarist approach, which is required in order to understand why an allocation which would provide a greater happiness might remain unchosen. Now, David Hume aimed at showing such an individual, in a noncontradictory way, chiefly in his canonical philosophical works: the Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), the two Enquiries, on Human Understanding (1748) and on the Principles of Morals (1751), and the Dissertation on the Passions (1757). Hume depicted an individual both concerned in his own happiness and not always matching his actions to such an objective. Broadly speaking, this is made possible because Hume had in mind an emotion-driven (“passion”-driven, in the words of the eighteenth century) individual, for whom his reason is a subordinate device which helps him reach the ends shown by his emotions. On the one hand, such an importance granted to emotions explains that they could lead us far from our greatest pleasure, hence from our greatest happiness. But, on the other hand, it also determines our ability to happiness, which varies along with our emotional state.