On Preferring that Overall, Things are Worse: Future-Bias and Unequal Payoffs

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Philosophers working on time-biases assume that people are hedonically biased toward the future. A hedonically future-biased agent prefers pleasurable experiences to be future instead of past, and painful experiences to be past instead of future. Philosophers further predict that this bias is strong enough to apply to unequal payoffs: people often prefer less pleasurable future experiences to more pleasurable past ones, and more painful past experiences to less painful future ones. In addition, philosophers have predicted that future-bias is restricted to first-person preferences, and that people’s third-person preferences are time-neutral. Philosophers disagree vigorously about the normative status of these preferences—i.e., they disagree about whether first-person future-bias is rationally permissible. Time-neutralists, for example, have appealed to the predicted asymmetry between first- and third-person preferences to argue for the rational impermissibility of future-bias. We empirically tested these predictions, and found that while people do prefer more past pain to less future pain, they do not prefer less future pleasure to more past pleasure. This was so in both first and third-person conditions. This suggests that future-bias is typically non-absolute, and is more easily outweighed in the case of positive events. We connect this result to the normative debate over future-bias.
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Archival date: 2020-06-11
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