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Can Unstable Preferences Provide A Stable Standard Of Well-Being?


  • Bykvist, Krister


How do we determine the well-being of a person when her preferences are not stable across worlds? Suppose, for instance, that you are considering getting married, and that you know that if you get married, you will prefer being unmarried, and that if you stay unmarried, you will prefer being married. The general problem is to find a stable standard of well-being when the standard is set by preferences that are not stable. In this paper, I shall show that the problem is even worse: inconsistency threatens if we accept both that your desires determine what is good for you and that you must prefer what is better for you. After I have introduced a useful toy model and stated the inconsistency argument, I will go on to discuss a couple of unsuccessful theories and see what we can learn from their mistakes. One important lesson is that how you would have felt about a life had you never led it is irrelevant to the question of how good that life is for you. What counts is how you feel about your life when you are actually leading it. Another lesson is that a life can be better for you even if you would not rank it higher, if you were to lead it.

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  • Bykvist, Krister, 2010. "Can Unstable Preferences Provide A Stable Standard Of Well-Being?," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 26(01), pages 1-26, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:ecnphi:v:26:y:2010:i:01:p:1-26_00

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. I. Gilboa & A. W. Postlewaite & D. Schmeidler., 2009. "Probability and Uncertainty in Economic Modeling," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 10.
    2. Klibanoff, Peter & Marinacci, Massimo & Mukerji, Sujoy, 2009. "Recursive smooth ambiguity preferences," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 144(3), pages 930-976, May.
    3. Klibanoff, Peter & Hanany, Eran, 2007. "Updating preferences with multiple priors," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 2(3), September.
    4. Maccheroni, Fabio & Marinacci, Massimo & Rustichini, Aldo, 2006. "Dynamic variational preferences," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 128(1), pages 4-44, May.
    5. Epstein, Larry G. & Schneider, Martin, 2003. "Recursive multiple-priors," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 113(1), pages 1-31, November.
    6. Sujoy Mukerji & Jean-Marc Tallon, 2003. "An overview of economic applications of David Schmeidler`s models of decision making under uncertainty," Economics Series Working Papers 165, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    7. Peter Klibanoff & Massimo Marinacci & Sujoy Mukerji, 2005. "A Smooth Model of Decision Making under Ambiguity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(6), pages 1849-1892, November.
    8. Al-Najjar, Nabil I. & Weinstein, Jonathan, 2009. "The Ambiguity Aversion Literature: A Critical Assessment," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 25(03), pages 249-284, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Krister Bykvist, 2010. "Happiness in a Flux? The Instability Problem," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 11(5), pages 553-565, October.
    2. Giuseppe Munda, 2012. "Choosing Aggregation Rules for Composite Indicators," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 109(3), pages 337-354, December.
    3. Mira Fischer & Sebastian Lotz, 2014. "Is Soft Paternalism Ethically Legitimate? - The Relevance of Psychological Processes for the Assessment of Nudge-Based Policies," Cologne Graduate School Working Paper Series 05-02, Cologne Graduate School in Management, Economics and Social Sciences.
    4. Brennan, Geoffrey & Brooks, Michael, 2011. "On the ‘cashing out’ hypothesis and ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ policies," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 601-610.
    5. Hasan, Hamid, 2013. "Capabilities vis-a-vis Happiness: Evidence from Pakistan," MPRA Paper 44892, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Yew-Kwang Ng, 2011. "Happiness Is Absolute, Universal, Ultimate, Unidimensional, Cardinally Measurable and Interpersonally Comparable: A Basis for the Environmentally Responsible Happy Nation Index," Monash Economics Working Papers 16-11, Monash University, Department of Economics.

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