Acta Analytica

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 367–385 | Cite as

Second-Order Preferences and Instrumental Rationality



A second-order preference is a preference over preferences. This paper addresses the role that second-order preferences play in a theory of instrumental rationality. I argue that second-order preferences have no role to play in the prescription or evaluation of actions aimed at ordinary ends. Instead, second-order preferences are relevant to prescribing or evaluating actions only insofar as those actions have a role in changing or maintaining first-order preferences. I establish these claims by examining and rejecting the view that second-order preferences trump first-order preferences. I also examine and reject the view that second-order preferences give additional normative force to an agent’s preferred first-order preferences. I conclude by arguing that second-order preferences should be integrated into an agent’s object-level preference ordering, and by explaining how best to make sense of this integration.


Second-order preferences Preferences Instrumental rationality Richard Jeffrey 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Penn State University—New KensingtonNew KensingtonUSA

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