Nozick on Time Preference
I’d like to discuss some of Nozick’s comments on time preference in his paper “On Austrian Methodology,” but there is an obstacle to doing so. Nozick is fond of intricate arguments, and the section of the paper on time preference is especially difficult. For that reason, I’m going to concentrate on only a few of the many points he addresses.
Nozick criticizes this passage from Human Action, which he rightly recognizes to be vital for Mises’s argument for time preference:
Time preference is a categorial requisite of human action. No mode of action can be thought of in which satisfaction within a nearer period of the future is not—other things being equal—preferred to that in a later period. The very act of gratifying a desire implies that gratification at the present instant is preferred to that at a later instant. He who consumes a nonperishable good instead of postponing consumption for an indefinite later moment thereby reveals a higher valuation of present satisfaction as compared with later satisfaction. If he were not to prefer satisfaction in a nearer period of the future to that in a remoter period, he would never consume and so satisfy wants. He would always accumulate, he would never consume and enjoy. He would not consume today, but he would not consume tomorrow either, as the morrow would confront him with the same alternative. (p. 796)
Nozick raises three objections to what Mises says. First, “a person might be indifferent between doing some act now and doing it later, and do it now. (‘Why not do
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