Graham Oddie, Professor of Philosophy, University of Colorado Boulder
Our desires and preferences change, but one particular kind of change in preferences has been singled out for opprobrium—so-called adaptive preferences. These preference changes were drawn to the attention of philosophers by Jon Elster, but the phenomenon, at least roughly delineated, was well known to psychologists (Festinger) and economists (Cyert and de Groot). The idea that adaptive preferences are defective is widely though not unitiversally endorse. But what exactly are adaptive preferences? There is no consensus explication of the concept. The notion of an adaptive preference is not really part of folk theory of desire. It was introduced into philosophical discourse by means of a few examples, without a formal definition. I assume that there are some clear-cut cases of adaptive preferences and some clear-cut cases of non-adaptive preferences, along with some rather less clear cases and some unclear cases. I offer an analysis of the concept that captures the clear cases and throws light on the ambiguous cases, by either resolving them or explaining why they do not fall clearly on one or other side of the boundary. With an account that makes sense of the notion we can turn to the question of whether, or when, adaptive preferences are a good thing.
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