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Abstract

Abstract

Is Utilitarianism Bad for Women?

Philosophers and policy-makers concerned with the ethics, economics, and politics of development argue that the phenomenon of ‘adaptive preference’ makes preference-utilitarian measures of well-being untenable. Poor women in the Global South, they suggest, adapt to deprivation and oppression and may come to prefer states of affairs that are not conducive to flourishing. This critique, however, assumes a questionable understanding of preference utilitarianism and, more fundamentally, of the concept of preference that figures in such accounts.

If well-being is understood as preference-satisfaction it is easy to see why poor women in the Global South are badly off: even if they do not desire more favorable conditions they nevertheless prefer them, and that preference is not satisfied. Preferentism provides a rationale for improving economic conditions and dismantling the unjust institutions that prevent them from climbing higher on their preference-rankings. Utilitarianism, therefore, insofar as utility is understood as preference satisfaction, is good for women.

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