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No, you cannot just ask. It's more complicated than that, as Amartya Sen laid out in many publications on his capability theory. People have "adaptive preferences".[1]

For example, if you ask a women in a very poor rural region of India whether she wants to become an engineer, she might value the possibility far less than she would if that career choice was a realistic, valuable option for her in her current situation. Other typical examples would be slaves who prefer to remain slaves because they are not in a position to really imagine life as a free man, women who state that they prefer to wear a Burka, because they have been raised that way, or a peasant in feudal times who would only have very modest aspirations because he could not possibly imagine living the life of a nobleman whose higher rights were given by God.

More generally speaking, the underlying problem is that the so-called "preference satisfaction view" is false.[2: p. 4] That's the idea of classical welfare economics that people prefer what's best for them. As Broome puts it, nobody really believes it, but it forms the basis of many arguments and theorizing.

So you cannot just ask, although surveys can be used as (potentially fallible) indicators.

[1] https://www.iep.utm.edu/sen-cap/#SH1b [2] https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/ethics-out-of-economics...




Maybe people don't always prefer what's best for them, but I believe that even when they don't, they are the best arbiter of that. In other words, maybe they don't know what's best for them but then neither does anybody else.

I mean, when I talk about asking, you can make education part of the asking the question. I am certainly not against more education, like showing what is it like to be engineer.

I might disagree with women who decide willingly to wear burka, or decide to be slaves, even if they have a different choice, but as long as they make it freely, I have to respect that choice.


Go ahead and respect it! But the question was whether we can look at those expressed preferences and declare that our job is done and employment opportunities are fair. And the answer is absolutely not.


If I understand you correctly there is a short reply to your kind of critique in Section 5 of the first link I gave, under the subsection titled "Illiberalism". It's a viable critique that has been (and still is) discussed extensively, of course.


Interesting. I will have to think about it more, but I can't say I completely agree with Rawls either. I don't agree that economic value of things is completely subjective, either.

It seems to me that these problems should be addressed with education first, rather than by imposing someone else's preference on people (which is my main worry here). Therefore, that some rural Indian women might decide differently is not really transferable to decisions made by well-educated women in western postindustrial societies.




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