4th CES International Seminar on the Foundations of Economics

Value Conflict, Decision-Making and Public Action

Ana Costa

Clive L. Spash

Fátima Ferreiro

João Tolda

John O’Neill

José Castro Caldas

José Reis

Laura Centemeri

Luís Francisco Carvalho

Maria Eduarda Gonçalves

Ricardo Coelho

Tiago Santos Pereira

Vasco Gonçalves

Vítor Neves

15 e 16 de junho de 2012

Sala 2, CES-Coimbra

Human action is often confronted with situations in which pursuing certain ends and values precludes the possibility of achieving other ends and values, distinct in quality but also important. Value conflict is a permanent feature of human action.

Public decision and action and, in particular, the controversies on the implementation of infrastructures with significant environmental impacts for individuals and communities, are domains where value conflicts are felt with particular pungency. In general, such decisions have as goals the growth of production and wealth, the improvement of transport and communication, accessibility and better job opportunities. However, they can also lead to negative effects, as the destruction of certain economic activities, the increase of wealth and income concentration and the degradation of the environment, biodiversity, landscape and heritage. Territories are part of the processes of individual and community identity construction. Therefore their transformation is often disputed.

Controversies about public decision-making, although in part related to the nature and estimation of the impacts which may occur, are mainly a result of the opposition between different interests and different conceptions of the public interest, and therefore of the values worth pursuing. The decision-making procedures and devices have a key role in the production of empirical evidence that supports or opposes a particular decision. But they are also critical in respect to the values that are made salient and those that are neglected, to the possibility of public participation and to the autonomy of social actors. Decision-making devices that require the reduction of all values to a common metric – through which they can be balanced one against the others, such as cost-benefit analysis – necessarily entail the neglect of value conflict and incommensurability. They are also biased towards those values which are more prone to quantification.

In this seminar we intend to clarify and discuss the contributions that different theoretical traditions in economics, sociology, anthropology, social psychology and philosophy have given to the issues of incommensurability, value conflicts and valuation. Identifying and exposing the normative assumptions of certain decision-making procedures and devices is another objective of this seminar. Particular attention will be given to the implications of these issues to public decision-making and action.

I. Value Conflict and Incommensurability: Theoretical Approaches
According to the neoclassical rational decision model, choice always implies the reduction of all values to a common metric. However, the assumption of value commensurability is not uncontroversial even within the discipline of economics. What insights can be drawn from different disciplines in respect to the notions of (in)commensurability and value conflict? What do economic value, valuation and evaluation mean? What are the reasons for people to resist trade-offs among certain values? Can we conceive rationality without value commensurability?

II. Value Conflict and Decision-Making Devices
The monistic and pluralistic perspectives on (in)commensurability and value conflict lead to different decision-making support devices: How do different procedures and decision-making devices – cost-benefit analysis, multicriteria analysis – deal with incommensurability and value conflict? What are their normative assumptions? In what sense can these tools be simplifiers of decision-making processes? How do they affect decision-making processes and choices?

III. Value Conflict and Public Policies
Since decision making and public action are often faced with situations in which it is impossible to pursue all values simultaneously, several questions arise: What role do decision-making devices, such as cost-benefit analysis, multicriteria analysis, or environmental impact assessment, play in controversies on the implementation of infrastructures with major environmental consequences for individuals and communities? What is the role of public participation and political action, and of technical and scientific expertise? What is the nature of the arguments mobilized in the context of these controversies?

Organizing committee: Ana Costa, Ricardo Coelho and Vítor Neves