Adaptive Preferences are not Irrational

Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Eric Wiland, Ph. D.


Jill Delston

Berit Brogaard

John Brunero


I untangle the many discussions in the literature of seemingly very different kinds of adaptive preferences (henceforth APs). I examine several arguments about the purported irrationality of APs. I consider whether agents with APs have something like ‘preference akrasia’, but rejected this account, as it seems the preferences could not truly be said to be ‘adapted’ at all (given a functional analysis of preference). I consider the requirement that APs are not rational because they are not autonomously formed, but reject it, as it is far too restrictive a rational requirement and renders most of our ordinary preferences irrational. I consider the requirement that APs be autonomously retained, but argue that this too is not a genuine rational requirement, and it ought to be rationally permissible to retain an unendorsed adaptive preference if it means a life of relatively more happiness and less frustration. Finally, I considered whether agents with a particular type of APs are irrational because they lack information about what inaccessible options would be like and therefore can’t be said to have ‘true’ preferences. I argued that they ought to be seen as possessing enough information to justify their rationally having (a kind of fallible knowledge of) the preferences they take themselves to have.

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