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Our panel of 90 professional philosophers has responded to

Question of the day

Your comment runs together two things that ought to be kept distinct: (1) Can we choose our preferences? (2) Could we have chosen otherwise than we in fact chose? I'll take them up in turn.

I'm not a psychologist, but I take it as common knowledge that we do have some long-term control over at least some of our preferences. Even if you now prefer Bieber to Beethoven, you can choose a program of listening and study that will fairly reliably end up reversing that preference. But the more important point is this: You needn't have chosen your preferences in order to choose freely in light of them. I prefer Beethoven to Bieber, and on that basis I can choose to listen to an hour of Beethoven's music rather than an hour of Bieber's if given those options. I would be unfree if I couldn't choose according to my preferences. Moreover, in some cases we form strong preferences -- e.g., for one job-offer rather than another -- as a result of careful deliberation, and it would be silly to think "Even though my deliberations resoundingly favor job A over job B, I wish I could choose to prefer B instead."

Whether we can choose our preferences, and whether free will requires our being able to do so, are separate issues from whether we could have chosen differently than we in fact chose. I'm inclined to think that we couldn't have chosen differently than we in fact chose under exactly the same conditions, even though we could have chosen differently had our desires been different from what they in fact were. But the important point is this: The freedom and control that it makes sense for us to want don't require the ability to have chosen otherwise under exactly the same conditions. For discussion and defense of this position, see this SEP entry: