Autonomy and adaptive preferences

Colburn, B. (2011) Autonomy and adaptive preferences. Utilitas, 23(1), pp. 52-71. (doi: 10.1017/S0953820810000440)

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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 characterised 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 – but potentially autonomy-enhancing – phenomenon of character planning.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Colburn, Professor Ben
Authors: Colburn, B.
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Journal Name:Utilitas
ISSN (Online):1741-6183
Published Online:15 February 2011
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2011 Cambridge University Press
First Published:First published in Utilitas 23(1):52-71
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.

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