interests, individual

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An individual's interests connect policies and actions adopted by him or her, or by other persons or governments, with want‐satisfaction and possibly need‐fulfilment. Interests express an instrumental relation between such policies and so forth, and an individual's preference‐attainment. Hence if I claim that it is in my interests to receive a pay rise, I suggest that more pay will enable me to obtain more of what I want. Such judgements are often predictive, and may be wrong. Interests are important in political analysis because they are taken as guides to behaviour—if something is in my interests I may be expected to try to bring it about (but see collective action problem). Again, in judging how others are likely to behave it may help to assess where their interests lie. When the relationship between a policy and its effects on a particular agent is a complex one, or where there is inequality in information, or when the agent is or has been subject to a power relation, the agent may not be the best judge of his or her own interests. In general, liberal political theory has given the agent a privileged position in the assessment of his or her interests for two reasons: first, agents have knowledge of their own wants which may not be accessible to outsiders; and secondly, an external judgement may impose someone else's view of the good. Radical political theory has suggested that the real interests of agents are not those based on the whole set of their present wants, but those based upon the wants they would have if liberated in various ways from the heteronomy imposed by the society in which they live. Liberals recognize that agents can be mistaken about the impact of a policy or action on their want‐satisfaction, and thus that they can be mistaken about their interests; radicals suggest that they may be systematically misled about their wants and needs, so that even if they correctly judge their interests on the basis of their perceived wants they will not pursue their real interests. See also public interest; individualism.


Subjects: Politics.

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