My main interest when reading Paul Dolan’s Happiness By Design was in the clear role his neo-utilitarianism played in his own life. Leaving aside the intellectual consideration of its virtues and vices, it clearly structured what Charles Taylor would call his moral space: providing horizons of significance within which he could orientate himself to the challenge of living a life.
I was thinking of this again when reading Richard Thaler’s Misbehaving. On page 35, he describes the early days of his career and how the minutiae of everyday life promoted the intellectual development of behavioural economics:
The Thaler family took a leisurely trip across the country in June, hitting national parks along the way, and the drive offered time to let my mind wander about ways to combine psychology and economics. Any topic was fair game for pondering. For instance: Suppose I will drive 500 kilometers today. How fast should I drive? If I drive at 120 kilometers per hour instead of 100, we will get to our destination 50 minutes sooner, which seems like enough time saved to risk a speeding ticket. But when I have only 50 kilometer left to go, I will only save 5 minutes by driving faster. That doesn’t seem worth it. So, should I be gradually slowing down as I get closer to my destination? That can’t be right, especially since we are going to get back in the car and drive again tomorrow. Shouldn’t I have a uniform policy for the entire trip? Hmmm, put it on the List.