On Preferring that Overall, Things are Worse: Future-Bias and Unequal Payoffs

Preston Greene, Andrew J. Latham, Kristie Miller*, James Norton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Philosophers vigorously debate the rationality of hedonic bias toward the future: a systematic preference for pleasurable experiences to be future and painful experiences to be past. The debate over future bias is distinctive in philosophy because arguments made on both sides concern descriptive and empirically tractable claims about patterns of preferences and the psychological mechanisms that could explain these patterns. Most notably, philosophers predict that this bias is strong enough to apply to unequal payoffs: people often prefer less pleasurable future experiences to more pleasurable past ones, and more painful past experiences to less painful future ones. They also predict that future-bias is restricted to first-person preferences, and that people’s third-person preferences are time-neutral. These claims feature in arguments both for and against the rational permissibility of future bias. Thus, we aimed to test whether these claims are descriptively accurate. Among our discoveries, we found that the predicted asymmetry between first- and third-person conditions is absent, and so cannot support arguments against the rationality of future-bias. We also uncovered an asymmetry between positive and negative events that might ground a new argument in favour of time-neutralism.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Philosophy and Phenonmenological Research Inc.

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