Pluralism, Intransitivity, Incoherence

In Mark White (ed.), THEORETICAL FOUNDATIONS OF LAW AND ECONOMICS. Cambridge University Press (2009)
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Abstract

Pluralism is an appealing and now orthodox view of the sources of value. But pluralism has led to well-known difficulties for social-choice theory. Moreover, as Susan Hurley has argued, the difficulties of pluralism go even deeper. In 1954, Kenneth May suggested an intrapersonal analogue to Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. In brief, May showed that an individual's response to a plurality of values will, given certain additional assumptions, lead to intransitive preference orderings. (Daniel Kahneman and others have shown that intransitivity is an empirical feature of preferences.) Hurley challenged May's additional assumptions as implausibly strong; but her work did not exclude the possibility that values may disobey the canon of rationality that insists on transitivity. John Broome has recently extended these canons to the "betterness" relation. This chapter argues that there is no good reason to be confident that values, understood as real features of the world, behave consistently with those canons.

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William A. Edmundson
Georgia State University

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