Transformative experiences, rational decisions and shark attacks

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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How can we make rational decisions that involve transformative experiences, that is, experiences that can radically change our core preferences? L. A. Paul (2014) has argued that many decisions involving transformative experiences cannot be rational. However, Paul acknowledges that some traumatic events can be transformative experiences, but are nevertheless not an obstacle to rational decision-making. For instance, being attacked by hungry sharks would be a transformative experience, and yet, deciding not to swim with hungry sharks is rational. Paul has tried to explain why decisions involving ‘sharky’ outcomes are an exception to the rule. However, her putative explanation has been criticized by Campbell and Mosquera (2020). In this paper, I offer a different solution to this problem. Roughly, I argue that transformative experiences give rise a problem for rational decision-making only if the decision can lead to satisfying some of our (new) core preferences, but can also frustrate other (new) core preferences. I also argue that agents can partially project what traumatic transformative experiences are like.

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Marc-Kevin Daoust
École de Technologie Supérieure


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