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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2006

Extract

In a number of debates in contemporary moral and political philosophy and philosophy of economics, philosophers hold the conviction that preferences have normative significance. A central assumption that underlies this conviction is that a cogent account of preference-formation can be developed. This is particularly evident in debates about well-being. Those who defend subjective accounts of well-being, on which a person’s life goes better for her to the extent that her preferences are satisfied, often qualify that account so that it does not include malformed or adaptive preferences (that is, preferences formed in non-autonomous ways, or humble preferences tailored to stifling circumstances), the satisfaction of which does not seem to contribute to well-being. This assumes that there is a normative standard of preference-formation with which to identify those preference that are malformed or adaptive in the relevant sense. An account of preference-formation is also important for philosophers who uphold an objective theory of well-being, on which well-being consists of the pursuit of objectively valuable goals, but who also believe in the value of freedom and thus emphasise the importance of respecting individuals’ choices among various goals. For they, too, in extolling the importance of respect for choices, assume that these choices are not distorted by inauthentically formed preferences, and thus also need an account of preference-formation to help distinguish those cases in which we ought to respect people’s choices from those in which we do not. In the vast literature on preferences, however, relatively little attention has been devoted to the

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2006

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