Standard Article


  1. Paul Weirich

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee744

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Weirich, P. 2013. Preference. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Preference is a mental state that compares two situations. To prefer one situation to another is to favor the first situation; one would rather be in the first situation. People prefer experiencing pleasure to experiencing pain. Common principles of value hold that, other things being equal, it is better for a person with a preference between two situations to be in the first situation than to be in the second situation. Common principles of morality therefore recommend meeting a person's preference, other things being equal. This essay reviews the components of a philosophical theory of preference, mentioning controversies within each component, and examines preference's place in normative principles. It explains the grounding rational preferences offer utilitarianism, and through cross-references indicates connections between points about preference and other topics in ethics.


  • benefit-cost analysis;
  • decision making;
  • desire;
  • economics;
  • ethics;
  • metaethics;
  • motivation;
  • philosophy;
  • practical reason;
  • rationality