Satisficing and substantive values


Authors
Thomas Hurka
University of Toronto, St. George Campus
Abstract
Satisficing theories, whether of rationality or morality, do not require agents to maximize the good. They demand only that agents bring about outcomes that are, in one or both of two senses, “good enough.” In the first sense, an outcome is good enough if it is above some absolute threshold of goodness; this yields a view that I will call absolute-level satisficing. In the second sense, an outcome is good enough if it is reasonably close to the best outcome the agent could bring about; this leads to what I will call comparative satisficing. These two views coincide in their implications for a specific sort of case, in which the situation is now fairly far below the absolute-level threshold and an agent can at best bring it to a point somewhat above that threshold. Here both absolute-level and comparative satisficing say he need not bring about his best available outcome, though of course he may; he is required only to improve the situation to the absolute threshold. But in other cases the views diverge. If the situation is now far below the absolute threshold and, no matter what, will remain below it, absolute-level satisficing requires an agent to everything he can to improve the situation; here its implications coincide with those of maximizing. But comparative satisficing is less demanding, requiring him only to make some reasonable percentage of the largest improvement he can. By contrast, if the situation is already above the absolute threshold, absolute-level satisficing does not require an agent to do anything at all to improve it, whereas comparative satisficing, which is now more demanding, still requires him to make some reasonable percentage of his best possible improvement.
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