Social norms are collective behaviors conditional on empirical and normative social expectations. We can confirm their existence in the world via carefully constructed measurement, usually in the form of questionnaires. Changing a harmful norm requires not just changing individuals but changing a community and making that change common knowledge. It may also require solving collective action problems.
When agents act or plan to act, they do so on the basis of both beliefs and preferences. Alternatively, we can phrase these as reasons and passions. Or we can say that a reward function and a model of the environment are required for a policy.
Before we can analyze collective behavior, we have to make a few foundational distinctions.
Individual or social
Preferences can be either individual or social preferences. Social preferences are those that “take into account the behavior, beliefs, and outcomes of other people” while individual preferences do not (Bicchieri 2016). (Example to come.) This distinction is important because changing individual preferences can plausibly happen in isolation, one person after another. Changing social preferences on the other hand is more likely to require coordinated group action.
Conditional or unconditional
Preferences can also be conditional or unconditional1. Conditional preferences are those that vary with some feature of the environment while unconditional preferences do not. This is an important distinction because a social engineer can change the way conditional preferences manifest by changing the environment while unconditional preferences can only be altered in a direct confrontation.
NitW also draws a distinction between prudential and moral preferences. I think these can be viewed as a special case of conditional and unconditional preferences. It seems we can gloss these to preferences which seek to satisfy instrumental or intrinsic values. Preferring not to cheat out of a fear of getting caught is a prudential preference; preferring not to cheat because it’s an odious breach of faith is a moral preference. This distinction is important because moral preferences are typically more stable—prudential preferences may change with changing circumstances while moral preferences will not.
If we put these two axes together, we end up with a classificatory grid like this:
|Individual preferences||Social preferences|
|Unconditional||“I want apples.”||“I want more apples than you.”|
|Conditional||“I want apples if it is autumn.”||“I want apples if my friends want apples.”|