Rationality, comparability and maximization

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James Griffin (1986, 1997, 2000) and Ruth Chang (1997) have argued that alternatives (and values) can be comparable when it is neither true that one is better than the other, nor true that they are exactly equal in value. The relation which holds between them has gone under various names: the alternatives are `roughly equal in value' (Griffin) or `on a par' (Chang). In this paper, I give a formal analysis of this relation. This analysis allows us to distinguish between two slightly different notions of `at least as good as'. It is argued that the distinction between these notions is important for discussions of rationality, as is the distinction between `rough equality' or `parity'and incomparability. The paper has four sections. I motivate the discussion with examples, and define various relations in Section 1. In Section 2, I suggest that cases of parity do not necessarily promote the case Amartya Sen (1994, 1995, 1997 and 2000) makes for thinking of rationality in terms of `maximization' which involves choosing an alternative which is no worse than any other in the set from which choice is made rather than `optimization' which involves selecting an alternative which is `at least as good as' any other alternative in the relevant set. In Section 3, I focus on John Broome's recent discussion of incommensurable values and practical reason (Broome, 2000). Section 4 concludes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-156
Number of pages15
JournalEconomics and Philosophy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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