Subject: Re: Open letter to those who believe in a right to free software
From: Richard Stallman <rms@gnu.org>
Date: Fri, 19 Nov 1999 17:39:36 -0700 (MST)

      The only value assumptions that I can see that I have
    made are (1) that what individuals want should matter in evaluating
    what is good for society, and (2) that some aggregation of what
    individuals _could_ want is sufficient to characterize what is good
    for society.

Because of the word "could", I agree with these assumptions.  The word
"could" makes a crucial difference.  Otherwise, if most people did not
want freedom, one would conclude that freedom is not good for society.

However, given a model, there is a natural temptation to apply it
straight-away to a summary of people's *actual* desires.  That would be
equivalent to replacing "could" with "do", with the problematical
consequence decribed above: in a world where most people don't value
freedom, this would implicitly assign freedom little value.  And it
could happen in such a quiet way that people might not notice the
assumption that is being introduced.

	rms> That latter question is not, I believe, the one you seek to
	rms> address.

    No.  I explicitly avoid it.  I do have that job, as a parent and as an
    academic advisor.  But not as a research economist.

You don't want to address this question, you just want to do research
and report it.  That's fine, as long as you report your research in a
way that doesn't implicitly lead people to accepting an assumption
about it *in a way that bypasses moral consideration*.  It might take
some effort to avoid that.

Every statement in a discourse carries implicit assumptions controlled
by the rules of discourse.  People generally interpret all statements
in the light of these rules.  One rule is that each statement should
be relevant to the question at hand.  So you normally interpret a
statement based on the assumption that it was meant to be relevant.

How does this apply to an economic study?

Imagine stating an economic study of how the practice of child labor
affects certain economic outcomes.  Whatever the details, presenting
such a study has an assumption hidden in it: that this is a relevant
way to think about the question of child labor.  But this kind of
consideration can only be relevant if there is no overriding reason to
be for or against child labor.  So in effect the study implicitly
asserts that there is no overriding reason.

At least, that's what it would do when non-economists read it.
Perhaps in the scientific discourse of economists the assumption of
relevance won't work the same way; perhaps a study is expected only to
be relevant to understanding of economic theory, not necessarily to
practical decisions about the phenomenon being studied.

But I think it is important to consider how non-economists will receive
the communication, not just how economists will receive it.

If you don't intend to convey such implications to non-economists, you
can cancel them out by explicitly denying them, provided you do it
clearly enough.