Adaptive Preference Tradeoffs

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Virginia Tech


Consider the following scenario: A mother chooses to marry off her 10 year-old daughter, not because she doesn’t know the harmful effects of child marriage, nor because she thinks that it is good that her daughter marries when she is 10 years old. Rather, she is unable to feed her daughter and realizes that her daughter’s survival depends upon her marrying a financially stable man. This is an apparent example of what human development practitioners and political philosophers call an adaptive preference (AP): a preference, formed under oppressive circumstances, that seems to perpetuate the agent’s own oppression. Prevailing opinion is that forced tradeoffs—especially following Serene Khader’s taxonomy—, like the case presented above, are a type of AP: one in which a person makes a decision because of a limited option set. In this paper I argue that no paradigm cases of forced tradeoffs should not be classified as APs. Instead, I offer a revised definition of adaptive preferences where I argue that adaptive preferences are psychological traits that cause the agent with adaptive preferences to make irrational or uninformed decisions that perpetuate their own oppression. I defend this new definition by exploring the implications of changing the definition. In particular, forced tradeoffs involve different kinds of interventions from other kinds of adaptive preferences and including forced tradeoffs risks committing testimonial injustice against those who have limited option sets.



political philosophy, feminist philosophy, preferences, oppression