Future Bias and Regret

In Prior's Paradigm for the Study of Time (forthcoming)
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The rationality of future bias figures crucially in various metaphysical and ethical arguments (Prior 1959; Parfit 1984; Fischer 2019). Recently, however, philosophers have raised several arguments to the effect that future bias is irrational (Dougherty 2011; Suhler and Callender 2012; Greene and Sullivan 2015). Particularly, Greene and Sullivan (2015) claim that future bias is irrational because future bias leads to two kinds of irrational planning behaviors in agents who also seek to avoid regret. In this paper, I join others who have objected to Greene and Sullivan’s argument (Dorsey 2016; Tarsney 2017), but for significantly different reasons that put into question an unchallenged premise in the debate. These reasons are based on the relationship between the alleged irrational planning behaviors and certain features of regret that regret shares with future bias. First, regret is dynamic, involving preferences that change over time and in inconsistent ways. Second, regret comes in degrees, meaning that we can rank our potential regrets. Because regret has these features, I show that the future-biased agents in Greene and Sullivan’s cases do not need to act in irrational ways to rationally avoid regret.



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Sayid Bnefsi
University of California, Irvine

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