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Autonomy and Adaptive Preferences




Adaptive preference formation is the unconscious altering of our preferences in light of the options we have available. Jon Elster has argued that this is bad because it undermines our autonomy. I agree, but think that Elster's explanation of why is lacking. So, I draw on a richer account of autonomy to give the following answer. Preferences formed through adaptation are characterized by covert influence (that is, explanations of which an agent herself is necessarily unaware), and covert influence undermines our autonomy because it undermines the extent to which an agent's preferences are ones that she has decided upon for herself. This answer fills the lacuna in Elster's argument. It also allows us to draw a principled distinction between adaptive preference formation and the closely related – but potentially autonomy-enhancing – phenomenon of character planning.

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  • Colburn, Ben, 2011. "Autonomy and Adaptive Preferences," Utilitas, Cambridge University Press, vol. 23(01), pages 52-71, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:utilit:v:23:y:2011:i:01:p:52-71_00

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    Cited by:

    1. Safarzyńska, Karolina, 2013. "Evolutionary-economic policies for sustainable consumption," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 187-195.
    2. David Alexander Clark, 2011. "Adaptation and development: issues, evidence and policy relevance," Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper Series 15911, BWPI, The University of Manchester.

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