Where do preferences come from?
Rational choice theory analyzes how an agent can rationally act, given his or her preferences, but says little about where those preferences come from. Preferences are usually assumed to be fixed and exogenously given. Building on related work on reasons and rational choice (Dietrich and List, Nous, forthcoming), we describe a framework for conceptualizing preference formation and preference change. In our model, an agent’s preferences are based on certain ‘motivationally salient’ properties of the alternatives over which the preferences are held. Preferences may change as new properties of the alternatives become salient or previously salient properties cease to be salient. Our approach captures endogenous preferences in various contexts and helps to illuminate the distinction between formal and substantive concepts of rationality, as well as the role of perception in rational choice.