Autonomy and Adaptive Preferences

Utilitas 23 (1):52-71 (2011)
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Abstract

Adaptive preference formation is the unconscious altering of our preferences in light of the options we have available. Jon Elster has argued that this is bad because it undermines our autonomy. I agree, but think that Elster's explanation of why is lacking. So, I draw on a richer account of autonomy to give the following answer. Preferences formed through adaptation are characterized by covert influence (that is, explanations of which an agent herself is necessarily unaware), and covert influence undermines our autonomy because it undermines the extent to which an agent's preferences are ones that she has decided upon for herself. This answer fills the lacuna in Elster's argument. It also allows us to draw a principled distinction between adaptive preference formation and the closely related phenomenon of character planning

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Ben Colburn
University of Glasgow

References found in this work

Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
The Morality of Freedom.Joseph Raz - 1986 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
The Morality of Freedom.Joseph Raz - 1986 - Philosophy 63 (243):119-122.
Free agency.Gary Watson - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (April):205-20.
Perfectionism.Thomas Hurka - 1993 - New York, US: Oxford University Press. Edited by Thomas L. Carson & Paul K. Moser.

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