Development As XKCD

By Christopher Allan Webber on Sun 07 June 2009

As some of you may know, Morgan Lemmer (now Morgan Lemmer-Webber) and I recently got married and are now on our honeymoon in Montreal. More on that later, probably.

Anyway, between things I have been rereading Development As Freedom by Amartya Sen, which I originally consumed as part of a class on the ethics of globalization. It's a remarkably good book that I think I appreciate much more having aged a few years. Anyway, a good portion of the beginning of the book encompasses a general overview and evaluation of different ethical systems. At one point Sen is advocating for the value of using a large range of ethical systems rather than just using a static set of rules (like libertarianism) or a particular framework (like utilitarianism or John Rawls' "Theory of Justice" approach), and that the use of human rationality to evaluate ethical situations should be viewed positively rather than as a sign of failure. There's this particular paragraph:

There's an interesting choice here between "technocracy" and "democracy" in the selection of weights, which may be worth discussing a little. A choice procedure that relies on a democratic search for agreement or a consensus can be extremely messy, and many technocrats are sufficiently disgusted by its messiness to pine for some wonderful formula that would simply give us ready-made weights that are "just right." However, no such magic formula does, of course, exist, since the issue of weighting is one of valuation and judgment, and not one of some impersonal technology. [p. 79]

I'm pretty sure the net Sen was casting here aimed a bit wider than just the ethics and rules of sex, and yes... I'm aware that nerds relating everything to XKCD is such a goddamned cliche, but I can't help but think that Monroe summarized that paragraph pretty well in comic form.