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Time Biases (Oxford)


Time Biases: A Theory of Rational Planning and Personal Persistence.  Oxford University Press, 2018. 

Should you care less about your distant future? What about events in your life that have already happened? How should the passage of time affect your planning and assessment of your life? Most of us think it is irrational to ignore the future but completely harmless to dismiss the past — especially if past events have no lingering effect. But this book argues that prudential rationality requires temporal neutrality: a properly self-interested person does not engage in any kind of temporal discounting. Time Biases draws on puzzles about real-life planning to build the case for temporal neutrality. How much should a young person save for retirement? How much should you ask to be compensated for a past injury? What’s a rational attitude toward radical change? To death? Would radical climate change make your life meaningless? Sullivan considers what it is for you to be a person extended over time, how time affects our capacity for egoistic concern, and myriad ways that our emotions might bias (or enhance) our rational planning. Drawing from work in social psychology, economics and the history of philosophy, the book offers a systematic new theory of rational planning.

Some Reviews and Media Discussion:

Paul Bloom wrote about it in The New Yorker.

Sanjay Gupta discussed it for CNN on his podcast.

Matt Teichman at UChicago taped an episode of the Elucidations podcast about the project.

From Travis Timmerman’s review in a forthcoming edition of The Journal of Moral Philosophy: “The best books in philosophy focus on a new (or underexplored) problems and make significant headway in solving those problems. Sullivan’s Time Biases does exactly that. Her arguments are original, insightful, and usually compelling. Her understanding of the issues are so deep, and her writing so clear, that the careful reader can’t help but gain a significant understanding of the relevant philosophical terrain. This book is an invaluable contribution to the literature on time biases, which will hopefully grow in the future, thanks in part to this groundbreaking work.”

And Tim Campbell recently reviewed Time Biases in The NDPR (Apr 2019). He writes: “The book will be of interest to anyone wishing to gain a deeper philosophical and scientific understanding of their own patterns of prudential concern and planning behavior, as well as bigger questions concerning life, death, and meaning. The book is well-argued, and stylistically, it is a welcome departure from the dryness that is characteristic of much of analytic philosophy.”

And Alan Goldman in Analysis: “Despite my criticisms of her arguments, I highly recommend this book both as an introduction to the topic of time bias and as a sophisticated and original treatment of the more specific topics that she addresses, a combined feat that is hard to achieve.  She manages to be clear and challenging at the same time, making reading this book very enjoyable for anyone with philosophical interests.  The reflection on the issues that she prompts does not quickly fade when the reading is past.

Time Biases makes an excellent holiday gift!

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