Vilfredo Pareto: Subjective Intentions and Objective Consequences
Most of Pareto's concrete analysis in the bulk of the Treatise is concerned with the springs of action of individual actors. Coming from economics, a discipline that had paid almost exclusive attention to rational action, he was moved to supplement the economists' system of abstraction with a sociological system emphasizing the nonlogical drives to action. Yet, while focusing most of the time on the actor's motivations, Pareto was also sensitive to the need for analyzing the objective consequences of conduct. Subjective intentions and ob- jective consequences, he stressed, do not always coincide.
Pareto was especially attentive to those instances in which men engage in what they conceive to be logical actions but which the outside observer sees as having no logical end, or, perhaps more importantly, which he finds culmi- nating in consequences other than those that were pursued by the actors. People believe that by means of certain rites and practices they may quell a storm or bring rain. Objectively we know that natural phenomena cannot be produced in this way; yet it may well be that by engaging in such practices the believers experience a euphoric sense of power that makes them better able to withstand the existential trials and tribulations in which they are involved and strengthens the bonds of the social system in which they participate. In this case, a belief system that is patently false still has a high degree of personal or social utility. More generally, "The experimental truth of a theory and its social utility are different things. A theory that is experimentally true may now be advantageous, now detrimental to society; and the same applies to a theory that is experi- mentally false." "A theory may be in accord with experience and yet be harm- ful to society, or in disaccord with experience and yet beneficial to society." The assessment of social utility must proceed apart from the investigation of the logical status of theories and of the subjective intentions of individual actors.
From Coser, 1977:395.