Fesmire – Beyond Popcorn Solutions: Hickman’s Anti-Reductionism and the Quest for Irrecusably Right Mechanisms in Valuation

Steven Fesmire

Radford University

Taking Peter Singer’s work as a test case, this presentation draws on Dewey and Hickman to critique the contemporary quest in ethics and policy for timeless mechanisms that purportedly get at objectively preexisting answers. Building on Dewey, Hickman’s pragmatic philosophy of technology challenges the aggregating moralist’s reductionistic quest for a predetermined metric whereby we judiciously weigh matters so that the balance automatically tips toward the good—many contemporary economists and policy analysts say “optimal”—outcome supported by a universal welfarist principle. Such strategies are at least a counterweight to a do-nothing attitude about the welfare of others, but the quest for a cover-all metric that is “Right” once and for all is not essential to constructing precise quantitative welfare models, algorithms, and assessments. So Hickman’s advice is to drain the theoretic bathwater while evaluating the functional-operational baby by its directive power.


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