What should we think of the woman who believes that it is proper for her husband to make all of the family's decisions? How do we respond to the mother who thinks that her domestic abuse is deserved? One popular explanation of such cases is that people's preferences may "adapt" to harmful or unacceptable circumstances that they see as unavoidable, so that they come to endorse states of affairs that they should rightly resist. Yet the concept of adaptive preferences is highly controversial:...[Show more] while its defenders argue that it is a useful tool for understanding the way in which members of marginalized groups can acquiesce to their own oppression and marginalization, its detractors argue that employing the concept unavoidably and disrespectfully treats adults as if they were children who do not know what is good for them. But at the same time, the concept is incredibly under-theorized: defenders and detractors of adaptive preferences alike rarely offer a clear account of the concept against which their claims can be tested. In this thesis, I propose and defend an autonomy-based account of adaptive preferences with four aims: a) conceptual clarity, b) the ability to show respect for persons, d) conduciveness to the political project of reducing marginalization, and d) recognition of and attention to the differential needs of children and adults. To achieve the first aim, I outline what I call an ""indirect substantive"" account of autonomy. This account uses substantive content indirectly to determine whether a person's preferences count as autonomous. Because my account of autonomy uses substantive content indirectly, it allows the possibility that any preference could count as autonomous, and therefore non-adaptive. In this way, it shows respect for persons by recognizing the role that their own processes of moral reasoning play in determining their good. But by using substantive content, I also ensure that the concept can aid the political project. In order for a preference to count as autonomous, and therefore non-adaptive, I argue that the person developing it must have been exposed to alternatives to the preference developed that were both live and valuable. In this way, while people may legitimately prefer options that seem to third parties to be unattractive or marginalizing, these preferences only deserve full deference when they have been chosen from among valuable alternatives. Finally, I turn to the issue of children. This issue is especially important, since previous discussions of adaptive preferences have failed to recognize that the needs of adults who have already developed adaptive preferences are very different from the needs of children in the process of developing them. I argue for ways of operationalizing my theoretical account of adaptive preferences that can both show respect for the already-formed preferences of adults (including those that are adaptive), and prevent children from forming adaptive preferences in the first place.
Items in Open Research are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.