Adaptive Preferences and the Hellenistic Insight

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Title Adaptive Preferences and the Hellenistic Insight
Author Breakey, Hugh Edmond
Journal Name Australian Journal of Professional and Applied Ethics
Year Published 2010
Place of publication Australia
Publisher Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Charles Sturt University
Abstract Adaptive preferences are preferences formed in response to circumstances and opportunities – paradigmatically, they occur when we scale back our desires so they accord with what is probable or at least possible. While few commentators are willing to wholly reject the normative significance of such preferences, adaptive preferences have nevertheless attracted substantial criticism in recent political theory. The groundbreaking analysis of Jon Elster charged that such preferences are not autonomous, and several other commentators have since followed Elster's lead. On a second front, Capability Theorists Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen have objected that adaptive preferences lead people away from objective goods and constitute an impediment to progressive change in developing countries. In this paper I argue that the criticisms of Elster, Sen and Nussbaum fail on the one hand to take into account what may be positively said in favour of this type of preference formation, and fail on the other hand to distinguish between different types of psychological changes – with the result that many of the critiques offered have a narrower purview than is currently allowed. My analysis of adaptive preferences, even in their most ideal form, is however not entirely positive; I adduce reasons why we can be cautious about allowing adaptive preferences to play certain types of roles in political processes, even as we accept those very preferences as normative and autonomous for the agent holding them. [International scholars without access to the AJPAE are invited to email for a pdf copy of this article.]
Peer Reviewed Yes
Published Yes
Publisher URI
Volume 12
Issue Number 1
Page from 29
Page to 39
ISSN 1328-4576
Date Accessioned 2011-06-20
Language en_AU
Research Centre Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance
Faculty Arts, Education and Law
Subject Ethical Theory
Publication Type Journal Articles (Refereed Article)
Publication Type Code c1x

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