The Nearby Daughter

Your beloved daughter is spending the summer at a Japanese monastery. On July 28 you receive a letter from an administrator, dated July 19, saying that she needs to have her wisdom teeth removed. The availability of drugs is not certain: She’ll either have a relatively painful extraction on July 27 or an unpleasant but painless one on July 29. Learning of this situation from afar, which drug would you prefer to have been available?

Now imagine that you receive the letter on July 26 and jet to her bedside. You arrive on July 28 to find her asleep. She seems a little restless, but you don’t know whether that’s because she had a painful extraction yesterday or because she’s anxious about having an unpleasant one tomorrow. Now which do you prefer?

“I find that the large majority of people to whom I present these cases say that they would prefer, in the first case, for their daughter to have the merely unpleasant operation on the 29th, and, in the second case, for their daughter to have had the painful operation on the 27th,” writes MIT philosopher Caspar Hare. “Furthermore, in each case they feel that it makes sense to have the preference, given the way in which it is appropriate to care about a daughter. While they would be loath to condemn a parent with different preferences, they feel that such a parent would be making a kind of mistake.” Why should this be?

(Caspar Hare, “A Puzzle About Other-Directed Time Bias,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 86:2 [June 2008], 269-277.)