Adaptive preference

Social Theory and Practice 33 (1):105-126 (2007)
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Abstract

I argue, first, that the deprived individuals whose predicaments Nussbaum cites as examples of "adaptive preference" do not in fact prefer the conditions of their lives to what we should regard as more desirable alternatives, indeed that we believe they are badly off precisely because they are not living the lives they would prefer to live if they had other options and were aware of them. Secondly, I argue that even where individuals in deprived circumstances acquire tastes for conditions that we regard as bad, they are typically better off having their acquired preferences satisfied. If they are badly off it is because they cannot get what we and they, would regard as more desirable alternatives. Preference utilitarianism explains why individuals in such circumstances are badly off whether they have adapted to their deprived circumstances or not. Even if they prefer the conditions of their lives to all other available alternatives, most would prefer alternatives that are not available to them which would, on the preferentist account, make them better off. And that, on the preferentist account, is the basis for a radical critique of unjust institutions that limit people's options and prevent them from getting what they want

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H. E. Baber
University of San Diego

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