Friday, 31 July 2015

Reasons for buying a house

I was talking to a friend over pizza in Kendal last night who is beginning to think of buying a house, possibly here. Asking about the factors that would influence a selection she suggested a variety. I have not tidied them up to be properties or qualities of a house but rather reasons of any sort. They included:
  • Proximity to either Kendal station 
  • A view of greenery 
  • An appropriate price 
  • Avoidance of a split level garden 
  • Fear of icy pavements 
  • Walking access to civic facilities 
  • Location outside three less salubrious areas of town 
Other factors that sometimes affect such decisions were not important including house age or style or having particular a priori room configurations.

In the UK, there is a widespread fascination, which I share, with house buying that goes beyond our eccentric habit of treating houses as primary financial investments. And so I began to wonder where in Kendal the ideal house would be and had to resist getting out my phone and searching the web there and then.

The nature of the decision has, however, a couple of interesting general features in seeming tension.

First, even given a list of factors, their combination is not transferable to someone else. The list I’ve just written down isn’t necessarily a ranking order. And some of the reasons are, as it were, enthymemes. It turns out that the desirability of avoiding a split level garden (the most left field feature on the list) was not so much aesthetic as I initially assumed (who can stand the sight of them?!) but a concern with trip hazards: a reason more familiar in those over 70 with the fear of ‘having a fall’ than younger than 40. But context and personal history is all for a reason like this (visiting relatives?). Hence perhaps a graded split level garden with grab handles on non-slip illuminated steps would be fine. And so on. But given the general Wittgensteinian idea of a symmetry of understanding explanations between speaker and audience, that suggests that the way the reasons operate for my interlocutor also awaits a context. Their valence will depend on their holistic combination in particular cases. The list doesn’t actually codify the right decision for speaker or audience.

Second, despite the uncodifiability of the reasons operating in complex decisions like this, it is still tempting – well for me at least – to think that there is a kind of unique correct outcome (in this case, relative to the houses actually for sale). (In truth, I think my wiser colleague immune to my foolish assumption.) Such a mythology also seems implicit in the presentation of house buying TV programmes – of which there are many – in the UK. Buyers are guided in a teleological quest for their ideal house, waiting somewhere out there for them. This contrasts with, say, buying a bunch of bananas where, providing they are the right degree of ripeness/unripeness, number, size and fair-trade status, any bunch satisfying those criteria will do. Ditto cars, I think. So that suggests an interesting tension between the very complexity of the case and still the thought that it is not so much aimed at satisfying criteria but rather at a correctness for which the criteria are mere epistemic guides rather than constituting a standard of correctness.

(Lurking in this area is the interesting combination in McDowell’s moral anti-anti-realism. The notion of correctness of moral judgement doesn’t rule out the possibility of difficult cases which tolerate a kind of ambiguity. The reality at which moral judgement is aimed is, if I read him right, gappy.)