Preference-Revision and the Paradoxes of Instrumental Rationality

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 22 (4):503-529 (1992)
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To the normal reasons that we think can justify one in preferring something, x (namely, that x has objectively preferable properties, or has properties that one prefers things to have, or that x's obtaining would advance one's preferences), I argue that it can be a justifying reason to prefer x that one's very preferring of x would advance one's preferences. Here, one prefers x not because of the properties of x, but because of the properties of one's having the preference for x. So-revising one's preferences is rational in paradoxical choice situations like Kavka's Deterrence Paradox. I then try to meet the following objections: that this is stoicist, incoherent, bad faith; that it conflates instrumental and intrinsic value, gives wrong solutions to the problems presented by paradoxical choice situations, entails vicious regresses of value justification, falsifies value realism, makes valuing x unresponsive to x's properties, causes value conflict, conflicts with other standards of rationality, violates decision theory, counsels immorality, makes moral paradox, treats value change as voluntary, conflates first- and second-order values, is psychologically unrealistic, and wrongly presumes that paradoxical choice situations can even occur.

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Duncan MacIntosh
Dalhousie University


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