Agency, Experience, and Future Bias

Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 7 (4):237-245 (2018)
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Most of us are hedonically future-biased: other things being equal, we prefer pains to be in the past and pleasures to be in the future. Recently, various authors have argued that future bias is irrational, and that we should be temporally neutral instead. I argue that instead of temporal neutrality, the putative counterexamples and the rationales offered for them only motivate a more narrow principle I call Only Action Fixes Utility: it is only when you act on the basis of assigning a utility to an outcome that rationality requires you to give it the same value retrospectively and prospectively, other things being equal. When hedonic experiences are untethered from action, hedonic future bias is rationally permissible. I support this principle by appeal to additional scenarios and more general asymmetries between agential and experiential goods.
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