In hard cases of comparison, people are faced with two options neither of which is conceived of as better, worse, or equally good compared to the other. Most philosophers claim that hard cases (1) can indeed be distinguished from cases in which two options are equally good, and (2) can be characterized by a failure of transitive reasoning. It is a much more controversial matter and at the heart of an ongoing debate, whether the options in hard cases of comparison should be interpreted as incomparable, on par, or roughly equal. So far, however, none of these claims and interpretations have been tested. This paper presents the first empirical investigation on hard cases, intransitive reasoning, and incomparability. Our results reveal that hard cases present real-world dilemmas in which a significant majority of people violate transitivity. After suggesting a way of operationalizing the notion of incomparability, we provide empirical evidence that the options in some hard cases are not considered to be incomparable. Theories of rough equality or parity seem to provide better interpretations of our results.
KeywordsHard cases Incomparability Small-improvement argument Transitivity Intransitivity Operationalization Empirical studies
We would like to thank Claus Beisbart, Monika Betzler, Georg Brun, Hans Rott, Stephan Sellmaier, and Jan Walker for their support and comments on previous drafts of the article. The paper was presented at conferences in Bern and Reading. We thank the audiences for their valuable feedback.
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