One of the most fundamental concepts in economics is the "utility function" that is supposed to represent a person's desires and their relative value to each other. Of course, this is crap (distant rumble as the entire edifice of mainstream economics goes down) but let us reflect here on why it is crap.
A person's desires are not well-ordered like the real numbers. It's not the case that you can always tell that one thing is more important than another thing. Being tortured may be less desirable than chocolate ice cream, but is having a nail driven through your hand more or less desirable than being kneed in the groin?
It's not even the case that there is no relationship between some pairs of desires, like the (knee in groin, nail in hand) pair. Rather, the relationship may or may not exist and may or may not fluctuate over time or due to externalities. You may prefer to have a nail driven through your hand one day and be kicked in the groin the next. All depending on whether you had chocolate ice cream that morning.
So people's desires are not well-ordered and they are not even partially-ordered. They are rather extremely disordered and so form an edset - to contrast with poset. Now the question is, what does an edset have to do with a utility "function"? The answer is: not a fucking thing. As should be immediately and blindingly obvious to anyone familiar with programming.
A function is a set of relations between two sets or between a set and itself, with each relation mapping to a unique value. A "utility function" is not a function since utility(knee in groin, nail in hand) maps to every possible value in the range of the function (less, equal, more) and also to no value at all.
The economist will counter by claiming that if people have no persistent utility functions then it's simple enough to take a snapshot of their desires at any one point in time and treat this as a utility function. However, this is moronic because the "utility function" so generated will invariably be 99.99% blank. Maybe there is a way to rescue the notion using a probability distribution of value for each desire (to represent randomness from internal and external sources) but this would rapidly become intractable.
More substantively, the utility "function" of an edset encodes little to no information. It is primarily white noise. What is of interest is not "less" or "more" or "equal" or whatever. What is of importance is the edset itself. This should be familiar to programmers because I am saying no more than that describing people's desires isn't well suited to a functional approach at all but rather requires an object-oriented approach.
Of course, the reason economists cling to this functional approach is because first it sounds more mathematical. Economists are suckers for anything that makes them sound more authoritative, the scum. And secondly because they are holding onto a Utilitarian past where you can pretend that utility(knee in groin) = -10.0. Such precision!
This makes it the 273rd umm 274th? reason why mainstream economists are morons and the whole field should be thrown in a rubbish bin. Along with anthropology and ... I am actually drawing a blank here since I can think of no other fields in academe that equals these in loathesomeness. Oh wait, philosophy. Phew, I was afraid my sense of righteousness was waning.
Oh yeah, there's a better name than 'edset', it's 'value system'. I really don't like 'desire' since it sounds too earthy and sensual. Of course, value has the dual problem of sounding too abstract and cerebral, but I can live with that better. And desire has the problem that satisfied desires are no longer desires, whereas value doesn't have that problem.
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