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Preference

According to preference utilitarianism, satisfaction of preferences is intrinsically good, and should be maximized. But do all kinds of preferences deserve equally to be taken into account?

In Taking Rights Seriously 1977 (2nd rev. edn 1978), Ronald Dworkin distinguishes personal preferences from external preferences. A personal preference is a preference about what I do or get; an external preference is a preference about what other people do or get. Dworkin argues that the right of individuals to equal consideration and respect concerning the assignment of goods and opportunities means that their personal preferences are to be respected, but not their external ones. External preferences should be ignored, in order to avoid 'double counting': in a utilitarian calculation in which everyone is to count for one, my wish to be rich should be weighed in, and so should another person's wish to be rich. But my wish that the other person be poor should not be weighed in. In the debate, critics have voiced doubts about finding a clear line of demarcation between the two kinds of preference.

The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy
ed. Thomas Mautner
ISBN 0-14-051250-0

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