Adaptive Preference (Social Welfare) by Social Theory and Practice

Book Review : Adaptive Preference (Social Welfare)

By Social Theory and Practice

  • Publication Date: 2007-01-01
  • Genre: Religion & Spirituality

Book Review

Martha Nussbaum argues that preferentism, or "subjective welfarism," the doctrine that a person's good consists in the satisfaction of her informed preferences, fails to explain our intuitions in cases of "adaptive preference," where the preferences of individuals in deprived circumstances are "deformed" by poverty, adverse social conditions and political oppression. Nussbaum argues that the satisfaction of such "deformed" preferences does not contribute to well-being, and hence the preference utilitarian's account of well-being is false. Furthermore, she claims, it undermines the motivation for projects intended to improve the material, social, and political life circumstances of individuals who are badly off: since the preferentist account suggests that these conditions are best for them if they are what such individuals prefer, it would seem that there is no reason to work for change. "Subjective welfarism," writes Nussbaum, "holds that all existing preferences are on a par for political purposes, and that social choice should be based on some sort of aggregation of all of them." Thus she concludes:

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