Preference utilitarianism—psychological or metaphysical? III

Related work


Earlier, I suggested that there are multiple interpretations of preference utilitarianism available, and outlined the implications of a few. Now, we’ll clarify how this whole line of thinking relates to existing discussion because context is good.

Value based on preferences

At first, I thought this paper might be detailing exactly the same thing I have here. However, further reading leads me to believe that they’re addressing something more like a secular version of the Euthyphro dilemma. Do we prefer good things because they are good? Or are good things good because they’re preferred? This issue is distinct from the one we’ve examined here.

Misguided preferences

Some object to preference utilitarianism because preferences can be “misinformed, crazy, horrendous, or trivial” (Sinnott-Armstrong 2015). This objection and its responses also deal with an error (loosely conceived) in the overall scheme of preference utilitarianism. But the error here is in the preference itself which is distinct from the preferrer’s beliefs about the world. To see that these are indeed distinct: Imagine someone with complete and total amnesia. They may well prefer certain states of the world to others but have no beliefs about the world at all because of their (philosophically convenient) thoroughgoing amnesia.

Nozick’s experience machine

Nozick’s experience machine is the most similar to our line of thinking here (Nozick 2013). It also examines a case where our beliefs about the world diverge from the fact of the matter. However, Nozick mostly uses the rhetorical device to argue that PPU (in our terminology) is an impoverished notion of the good. Virtues matter, rights matter, etc. We’ve instead examined MPU as an answer to the problem posed by the experience machine and looked at the whole issue in more detail. In other words, Nozick suggests the problem might be fixed by considering more than just preferences when determining the good and I’ve suggested the problem might be fixed by adjusting when we regard a preference as fulfilled.

Nozick, Robert. 2013. “The Experience Machine.”

Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. 2015. “Consequentialism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Winter 2015.; Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.