4th CES International Seminar on the Foundations of Economics “Value Conflict, Decision-Making and Public Action”

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.

Organizing committee: Ana Costa, Ricardo Coelho and Vítor Neves

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