There are at least two possible interpretations of preference utilitarianism: psychological preference utilitarianism (the morally important part of preference satisfaction is when the preferrer believes it to be satisfied) and metaphysical preference utilitarianism (the morally important part of preference satisfaction is when the world comes into accord with the preference). Each has strange implications. PPU favors deception and gives up intuitive supervenience. MPU requires us to pick us some demarcation criterion; the broadest possible demarcation criterion is a bad candidate.
Last time we highlighted that there are actual several possible interpretations of preference utilitarianism. These depend on when you get to a recognize a preference as having been satisfied in your moral accounting: When the world changes to accord with your preference? When you believe the world to have changed? When you have a justified true belief that the world has changed?
In this post, we’ll draw out some implications of these views which will also serve as preliminary arguments for and against. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll focus on the two poles: preferences are satisfied when the preferrer believes the world to have changed (purely psychological), and preferences are satisfied when the world has changed (purely metaphysical).
(I’ll also note that I assume advocates of preference utilitarianism implicitly (or explicitly and silently?) believe the psychological variant and my intuition favors it. If I argue against that position more vehemently, it’s only a sign of esteem.)
One obvious but unfortunate implication of the psychological point of view is that self-deception is A-OK. Obligatory even. If I’d like to be create a grand unified theory of physics, I may find it easier to set myself a bastardized version of the problem than to solve the real thing. And if I can deceive myself in this way, the psychological theory of preference utilitarianism (henceforth PPU) makes a prima facie case that I am morally obliged to. (Because this deceptive approach is easier, it means I can satisfy this preference quickly and move on the satisfaction of other preferences rather than sinking vast gobs of time into the ‘authentic’ method.)