The Singular Plurality of Social Goods / La singolare pluralità dei beni sociali

Dissertation, Université de Neuchâtel (2022)

Abstract

According to some philosophers and social scientists, mainstream economic theories currently play an unprecedented role in shaping human societies. This phenomenon can be linked to the dissemination of methodological individualism, where common goods are interpreted as reducible to aggregates of individuals' well-being. Nonetheless, some emergent difficulties of economics in coping with global institutional issues have encouraged some authors to revise that paradigm. In the last three decades, there has been a parallel growing philosophical interest in investigating social sciences' epistemological and ontological foundations. Unfortunately, these two research trends have often not communicated systematically enough to understand the specific ontology of collective aims. It is still unclear whether some irreducible social goods exist and how the answer to this question can set up a consistent understanding of cooperative actions. This dissertation addresses this issue, drawing on philosophical investigations about collective intentionality. It claims that a coherent ontological taxonomy of irreducible and reducible social goods is theoretically viable and can reframe prevailing approaches to collective action dilemmas influenced by the traditional economic categorisation of goods. The research begins by analysing how the influential theory of public goods has paved the way for some social and moral impasses. Furthermore, some theoretical proposals suggesting the existence of relational goods and common-pool resources are scrutinised. Hence, a refutation of the ontological reduction of all social goods to individual ones is developed, arguing that a specific form of cooperation, grounded in we-intentions and we-reasoning, shows the plausibility of the existence of some kinds of irreducible collective goods. Expanding on that view, a refinement of this categorisation of social goods is put forward by underlying the function of some relational entities, such as trust and shared sensemaking processes, in making cooperation robust in uncertain environments. Finally, by applying the taxonomy to collective action gridlocks regarding climate change, digital information, and public education, the consistency of this hypothesis is tested, showing that a pluralistic ontological account of social goods might improve the moral understanding of current social dilemmas.

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