Is present-bias a distinctive psychological kind?

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Present-bias is the preference, all else being equal, for positive events to be located in the present rather than the non-present, and for negative events to be located in the non-present rather than the present. Very little attention has been given to present-bias in the contemporary literature on time biases. This may be because it is often assumed that present-bias is not a distinctive psychological kind; that what explains people’s being present-biased is just what explains them displaying various other time-biases. According to this view, there is no need to investigate present-bias independently of investigating these other biases, since present-bias is really just a manifestation of these other biases. We call this the manifestation thesis. We take up the question of whether the manifestation thesis is true, and argue that it is not. Thus, by failing to investigate present-bias in its own right we are failing fully to understand the spectrum of ways in which people display time biases. In turn, we suggest, this may have implications for the ways we evaluate whether present-bias is rationally permissible.

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