Major Department

Ethics and Public Policy


College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Spring 2021

Honors Major Advisor

Diane Hauser

Thesis Mentor

Asha Bhandary


This honors thesis attempts to reconcile adaptive preferences (APs) with the autonomy of the oppressed. I thus investigate APs closely, a term used in the feminist philosophical literature to communicate a distinct feature of marginalized and oppressed people–the undue influence of systems of oppression on their preferences, decisions, and overall autonomy. I have aimed to situate this concept within a broader discussion of autonomy theory to get at the heart of this project: constructing an account that universalizes APs, one that asserts it as a phenomenon affecting people of all social locations. To better illustrate social positioning, I assert that all people are variously situated within any given dominant social imaginary; in this way, our agentive capacities are inherently tied to that social imaginary. My account thus puts forth necessary normative questioning to alleviate failures by theories to appropriately understand the oppressed person’s actions, preferences, and even compliance with oppressive norms. Simultaneously challenging the current application of APs, while also acknowledging the concept’s marked influence on the field of feminist ethics and autonomy theory, my account makes room for identities which shift, an intersectional perspective, a critique of the privileged who by way of their social locations often help maintain oppressive structures, and social resistance. The final portion of this project looks at competing accounts to answer a question of resistance and outlines specific examples of adaptive preferences held by the privileged person that one might learn to resist.


autonomy theory, feminist philosophy, antiracism, critical race theory, adaptive preferences, social imaginary

Total Pages

20 pages


Copyright © 2021 Elizabeth Zupancic

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.