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Sarah Fitz-Claridge has taken to deleting comments i post on takingchildrenseriously.com, including this one (see end of post for Henry's comment and my now-deleted reply). why? she says "no meta" and won't give any more details, like pointing out what bit of the comment is allegedly meta. also she says this rule applies to everyone. so maybe i'll point out various other posts with meta to her and see if she deletes them...

I was also put on moderation so comments I write on that site have to be approved to be posted. However, anonymous posts are not moderated. So, like, what the fuck? I logged out, have to type my sig myself now, and will have a harder time finding new comments to read without using the feature that tags new ones for me. Umm, great, she's wasted some of my time, for no reason. *sigh*

UPDATE: all anonymous posts now get moderated too. lovely. if you make a new account you can post with that unmoderated, though.

anyway, henry's comment and my now-deleted reply (judge for yourself how worthy of deletion my reply is, i suppose):

Common Preference is a flawed idea

I certainly like what TCS stands for. Quite literally, actually. I think Taking Children Seriously is a great name, and it really sums up nicely how I think we should treat children: simply take them seriously, just as we take adults seriously. I agree with TCS's most important themes, which I consider to be: don't coerce your kids (well, I think there are rare exceptions where it's good to coerce kids or adults), be creative at solving problems (generally work from the assumption that there is a solution), be skeptical about traditional education, use argument and advice rather than force, look for common decisions which make all involved happy. I attended a lecture once by Sarah Fitz-Claridge about TCS, and she has really good and, I believe, true things to say about how to deal with children. So I much appreciate her insights and analysis of the mistakes so many people make in dealing with children. Mostly boiling down to not taking them seriously and using coercion instead of reason.

But ironically, while I broadly agree with most of the TCS conclusions, it strikes me that the way it is typically philosophically defended is logically flawed on several issues. Some other time perhaps I will argue that TCS'ers are somewhat mistaken about the link between TCS and fallibilism. Here I wish to argue that the TCS notion of common preferences is thoroughly confused. This is evidenced by my analysis of two articles on this site showing that the following three different and incompatible definitions of "common preference" are used interchangeably:

1.A common policy that improves the position of everyone.
2.A common policy that everyone involved prefers to all alternatives considered.
3.A common policy that everyone is satisfied with.

Definitions 1 and 2 follow from the first sentence of the article above:

"Common preferences are policies that all parties after a successfully resolved disagreement prefer to their initial positions: everyone gets what they want."

It is clear that the first part of the sentence implies definition 1. The second part ("everyone gets what they want") seems to suggest definition 2, but this is less clear. However, the following sentences clearly does suggests definition 2:

"To put it simply, you keep making bold conjectures and subjecting them to criticism until you have a solution that everyone involved wholeheartedly prefers to any other candidate solutions any of you can think of at the time. (We call that a common preference, the preference you have in common.)".

This is from the article Introduction to Taking Children Seriously (TCS) . Another except from that article:

" 'Does it have to be a question of being right? Am I actually wrong for wanting to go to a Chinese restaurant, or is that just my taste?' countered Wendy. It is not the fact that you like Chinese food that is the problem, it is that you are not taking into account the fact that the smell of Chinese food makes me feel physically sick. Let me put it another way: if neither of us changes our mind and we don't resolve the disagreement, is it not the case that at least one of us is going to get hurt?"

Apparently the aim here is to find something that everyone can agree to without anybody feeling hurt. This implies definition 3. Now let's go through these definitions.

It's often easy to find a common policy in accordance with 1. Suppose we are all very hungry. I prefer to go to a Chinese restaurant, while my friend doesn't like Chinese food. But since she is very hungry, having a Chinese dinner still does improve her situation, since she'd rather eat something she doesn't like than stay hungry. So we eat Chinese. According to the definition this is a common preference. But of course this is a totally useless definition, because defined this way a common preference isn't a good result at all. Although both our positions have improved, going to a Greek restaurant, say, would have been a much better choice if my friend really loves Greek food and I like it only slightly less than Chinese food.

Definition 2 is obviously ludicrous in the context of how TCS'ers use the term. It's not ludicrous in the sense that such a common preference is impossible. Sometimes it does happen that, say, all in a group prefer to go to the same restaurant. That's a true common preference. But what makes this definition ludicrous is the fact that it is inconsistent with the TCS idea that one can find a common preference in general. This is obviously untrue, a case of wishful thinking. If I prefer Chinese food and my friend prefers Greek food we have different preferences not a common one. The fact that we may be mistaken about our own preferences is irrelevant, for it remains that there is no logical reason to assume people generally have the same preference.

Definition 3 is the most realistic definition. And in practice that indeed seems to be the TCS attitude. Try to find a policy that everyone is happy with, taking into account everybody's preferences. Though I slightly prefer Chinese food to Greek food, I will be quite happy if we go to the Greek restaurant, because I still like Greek food, and I want my dinner partner to be happy as well. So, the idea is good: if there is disagreement try to be rational, creative, loving, etc. and come up with a solution that everyone can live with. Normal people call this a compromise. TCS'ers call this a common preference. But that term is, of course, quite wrong. Agreeing to a solution other than your own preference, to make others happy, is not a preference, much less a common preference. This may sound horrible, but TCS'ers live in the same world as normal people, and therefore they too regularly make group decisions via compromise, voting or whatever. Their third way exists only in Alice in Wonderland. Unless you redefine the word preference to mean a preference for maximum utility for the group, in which case all would have the same preference if they can agree on all individual utilities for all alternatives. But that is not what the word preference normally means. But, again, the attitude is good. In their illogical search for a common preference I imagine TCS'ers will tend to find the best and wisest compromises, making everybody happy. And that's good.

A last comment. One thing I'm missing in TCS is the idea that everybody doesn't have to do the same thing. If you're in a group you don't always have to find a "common preference" (compromise). If the majority very much wants to do one thing and one person has a very different preference, that individual can simply choose not to join and let the rest of the group do what it wants. Or the group can split into two groups, or whatever. This may be much better in many cases than looking for a single "common preference" for the whole group.

by Henry Sturman on 2003/08/22 - 11:19 GMT | reply to this comment




Re: Common Preference is a flawed idea

Henry Sturman,

Definition 1 is, I agree, basically useless. Definition 3 is ambiguous, and hinges on what 'satisfied' means. I agree it could easily be interpreted to include compromises, which should not be deemed common preferences. so i'd throw definition 3 out too, and chastise any TCSers who write like it's true.

Before I continue, I want to caution you against paying attention to things like 'how most TCSers tend to use the term.' Most TCSers are usually fairly imprecise. And most of them don't get the all subtle or deep bits of TCS either. Even many of the articles on this site are not precise at all (I happen to think this policy is bad.) So anyway, I suggest instead of paying attention to the general attitude of TCSers towards a subject, you should look for the most precise and best couple things you can find, and analyse those.

Definition 2 is basically the TCS one. An alternative way to explain what a common preference is, is: a solution to a dispute in which no parties are coerced.

The point of a common preference is not that everyone orders lemon chicken (and thus has a preference for lemon chicken in common). Rather, it is more likely we will both prefer that you order lemon chicken while I order broccoli beef (or whatever it is we like). This is a common preference even though we order different things, because we each prefer that is how ordering should happen.

So in the case of one person splitting off from a group to do something else, that often is a common preference. the group may well prefer the person to split, while it continues. and the person may well prefer to split, while the group continues. (possible stumbling points would be if the group needed all its members for some reason, or the person didn't want to do his thing alone, in which case it'd take more creativity to solve).

or with Jack who wants greek food, and Jill who wants chinese, various common preferences could be:

- they each go eat alone (this is what people who aren't good friends might do)

-or-

- they each care about each other, and want to eat together, and also don't want the other to be happy, and thus agree to:
- get greek now (and maybe chinese next time). this could be a CP if Jill doesn't want to eat alone, and doesn't want to drag jack to chinese, and doesn't think ill of greek food, and basically prefers this to all rival plans.
- same as last, but with them getting chinese b/c they determine food choice is more important to jill than jack
- get takeout from one or both places
- stay home if they decide the food's not worth the hassle, and plan to each get the kind of food they like some time the other is busy.

BTW friends do this *all the time*. initially they want to go different places or otherwise do different things, and then they come to agree on one plan. it is this plan about what should happen (which includes what everyone involved should do, and takes into account everyone's preferences) that becomes common in a common preferences. (and before i sound like a socialist, i should emphasise that far and away the most prevalent kind of CP, that happens all the time, is for people to decide to both do their own thing, individually. like i'm working on my computer while someone else is downstairs, doing something else, and we're both fine with this state of affairs)

-- Elliot Temple
http://curi.blogspot.com/

by Elliot Temple on 2003/08/22 - 18:50 GMT | reply to this comment

Elliot Temple on August 24, 2003

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