- Adaptive Preferences in Political Philosophy
Philosophy Compass, (2022), 17(1).
The concept of adaptive preferences is supposed to explain how and why victims of injustice might come to endorse their own oppression, and to provide political philosophers with a tool for objecting to that oppression even when its victims do not. Critics, however, argue that using the concept of adaptive preferences further harms the victims of injustice, by denying them the respect owed to moral agents and/or the opportunity to direct the course of their own lives. After canvassing this debate, I consider one proposal for retaining the concept as a helpful political tool while avoiding the harms that detractors point to. This proposal allows us to make different well-being judgements about adaptive preferences before and after they have been formed. I conclude by considering the parallel literature on adaptive preferences and disability, noting the possible short-comings of the proposal in that case, and suggesting a variety of ways for moving forward.
- Weddings and Counterstereotypic Couples
Social Theory and Practice, (2021), 47(4):789-807.
In this article, I argue that opposite-sex couples planning weddings have a duty to make their choices in ways that undermine the harmful norms that lead to most women taking their husband’s last names when they marry, and most weddings being extremely expensive. This duty, however, is not a duty to significantly reduce the prevalence of those norms, since doing so is generally not in the power of individual couples. Rather, it is a duty to provide observing couples around them with new live options for their own weddings.
- What Can Adaptive Preferences and Transformative Experiences Teach Each Other?
Becoming Someone New: Essays on Transformative Experience, Choice, and Change, eds. Enoch Lambert & John Schwenkler, Oxford University Press, 2020
- (When) Do Victims Have Duties to Resist Oppression?
Social Theory and Practice, (2020), Online First.
In this article, I first propose four guidelines that follow from understanding the project of assigning victims duties to resist oppression as an ameliorative project. That is, if we understand the project to be motivated by the urgent aim of ending or mitigating the harm that oppression imposes on the oppressed, I argue that we should focus on developing and assigning duties that satisfy what I call the ability, weighting, fairness, and overdemandingness guidelines. Second, I develop the duty to be a non-normative individual, which satisfies all four guidelines.
- How Politically Liberal Should the Capabilities Approach Want to Be?
Politics, Philosophy and Economics, (2019), Online First.
In this article, I develop a tension in the capabilities approach between committing to political liberalism and ensuring full capability for all persons. In particular, I argue that the capabilities approach can maintain a commitment to full capability only by embracing at least one of three kinds of comprehensiveness: Even if it can avoid comprehensiveness along the dimensions of height and depth, it is committed along the dimension of breadth. In short, because the possession of capability can be hampered either by external obstacles that prevent a person from accessing a good or by internal obstacles that prevent a person from being open to it, the capabilities approach faces a dilemma: Either it can ensure that persons are free of internal obstacles to the possession of capability by pushing them to be open to functionings across a relatively comprehensive set of domains of life (that is, require breadth-comprehensiveness); or else it can side with political liberalism by making options externally available across many domains of life without encouraging internal endorsement – but in this case, it runs the risk that persons will foreseeably and avoidably face internal obstacles to genuine possession of some capabilities.
- Must Adaptive Preferences be Prudentially Bad for Us?
Journal of the American Philosophical Association, (2017), 3(4):412-429.
In this paper, I argue for the counter-intuitive conclusion that the same adaptive preference can be both prudentially good and prudentially bad for its holder: that is, it can be prudentially objectionable from one temporal perspective, but prudentially unobjectionable from another. Given the possibility of transformative experiences, there is an important sense in which even worrisome adaptive preferences can be prudentially good for us. That is, if transformative experiences lead us to develop adaptive preferences, then their objects can become prudentially better for our actual selves than the objects of their non-adaptive alternatives would now be. I also argue, however, that the same worrisome adaptive preferences might still be prospectively prudentially objectionable: that is, our pre-transformation selves might be prudentially better off undergoing a non-adaptive alternative transformative experience instead. I argue that both claims hold across the range of the most broadly-defended accounts of well-being in the literature.
- Entitlement and Free Time
Law, Ethics & Philosophy, (2017), 5:91-104
In this paper, I use the framework developed by Julie Rose in Free Time to offer an initial analysis of another under-theorized resource that liberal egalitarian states might owe their citizens: that is, the sense of moral of entitlement to make use of their basic liberties. First, I suggest that this sense of moral entitlement, like free time, might be necessary for the effective use of those basic liberties. Next, I suggest that this sense of moral entitlement (again, like free time) might be the kind of all-purpose good that satisfies publicity and feasibility criteria. Together, this suggests that a sense of moral entitlement to make use of basic liberties is the kind of resource that is appropriate for distribution by a liberal egalitarian state, and that such states indeed owe their citizens.
- When is Non-ideal theory too Ideal? Children, Adaptive Preferences, and Ideal Theory
Political Utopias: Contemporary Debates, eds. Michael Webber & Kevin Vallier, Oxford University Press, 2017
Political philosophers working on ideal and non-ideal theory sometimes seem to be stuck in a bind: while ideal theory risks being too ideal to be useful in the real world, non-ideal theory risks being so non-ideal that it stops far short of justice. In this paper, I highlight a third – and equally unappealing – possibility: that non-ideal theory, precisely because of its obvious engagement with real-world problems, might fail to recognize the unacceptable ways in which it is itself problematically idealized. I highlight this problem through the case-study of adaptive preferences. Although work in adaptive preferences obviously fits into non-ideal theory, the actual work being done in the literature is idealized in that it takes only the circumstances and needs of adults into account. In the best case, this means that the needs of one of our most vulnerable populations – that is, children – are ignored. In the worst case, where the needs of children and adults conflict, the needs of children will be actively frustrated. In this way, non-ideal theory can fail to approximate justice precisely because it fails to recognize the idealizations that it itself employs.
- Conceptualizing Adaptive Preferences Respectfully: An Indirectly Substantive Account
Journal of Political Philosophy 2016: 23(3), 206-226.
In this paper, I argue that accounts of adaptive preferences worth using must meet three criteria. First, they must be able to serve as an effective tool to combat marginalization and oppression. Second, they must respect persons by recognizing the interest that they have in living a life in accordance with their own convictions. Third, they must respect persons by recognizing the interest that they have in being seen as authorities on their own good. While these three aims seem to conflict, I propose an account of adaptive preferences which satisfies all three. It is based in what I call an “indirect substantive” account of autonomy: this kind of account of autonomy uses substantive content indirectly as part of an otherwise procedural account. Doing so provides a justification for combatting marginalization and oppression even when it is not protested, while also showing respect for persons.
- Adaptive Preferences: Merging Political Accounts and Well-being Accounts
Canadian Journal of Philosophy 2015: 45(2), 179-196.
Accounts of adaptive preferences are of two kinds: well-being accounts fully theorized for their own sake, and political accounts theorized to facilitate the political project of reducing oppression and marginalization. Given their practical role, the latter are often less fully theorized, and therefore less robust to theoretical criticism. In this paper, I first draw on well-being accounts to identify the well-theorized elements that political accounts should want to adopt in order to strengthen their project and avoid common criticisms. Second, I appeal to the political project to show the shortcomings of the well-being accounts on which I draw.
- Autonomy and Settling: Rehabilitating the relationship between autonomy and paternalism
Utilitas, 2015: 27(3), 303-325.
In this paper I show the short-comings of autonomy-based justifications for exemptions from paternalism and appeal to the value of settling to defend an alternative well-being-based justification. My well-being-based justification, unlike autonomy-based justifications, can 1) explain why adults but not children are exempt from paternalism; 2) show which kinds of paternalism are justified for children; 3) explain the value of the capacity of autonomy; 4) offer a plausible relationship between autonomy and exemption from paternalism; and 5) give political philosophers a justification for exempting persons from paternalism even if broad scepticism about the capacity for autonomy is justified.
- Educating for Autonomy: Liberalism and Autonomy in the Capabilities Approach
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 2014: 17(3). (w/ Luara Ferracioli)
Martha Nussbaum grounds her version of the capabilities approach in political liberalism. In this paper, we argue that the capabilities approach, insofar as it genuinely values the things that persons can actually do and be, must be grounded in a hybrid account of liberalism: in order to show respect for adults, its justification must be political; in order to show respect for children, however, its implementation must include a commitment to comprehensive autonomy, one that ensures that children develop the skills necessary to make meaningful choices about whether or not to exercise their basic capabilities. Importantly, in order to show respect for parents who do not necessarily recognize autonomy as a value, we argue that the liberal state, via its system of public education, should take on the role of ensuring that all children within the state develop a sufficient degree of autonomy.
- The perfectionism of Nussbaum’s adaptive preferences
Journal of Global Ethics, 2014: 10(2), 183-198.
Although the problem of adaptiveness plays an important motivating role in her work on human capabilities, Martha Nussbaum never gives a clear account of the controversial concept of adaptive preferences on which she relies. In this paper, I aim both to reconstruct the most plausible account of the concept that may be attributed to Nussbaum and to provide a critical appraisal of that account. Although her broader work on the capabilities approach moves progressively towards political liberalism as time passes, I aim to show that her account of adaptive preferences continues to maintain her earlier commitment to perfectionism about the good. I then distinguish between two obligatory kinds of respect for persons, which I call, respectively, primary and secondary recognition respect. This distinction allows us to see that her perfectionist account of adaptive preferences allows her to show persons primary but not secondary recognition respect. Ultimately, I claim that an acceptable account of adaptive preferences must succeed in showing persons both types of respect. I conclude with some preliminary remarks on what such an account might look like.