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It is commonly held that rational preferences must be acyclic. There have, however, been cases that have been put forward as counterexamples to this view. This paper focuses on the following question: If the counterexamples are compelling and rational preferences can be cyclic, what should we conclude about the presumed acyclicity of the “better than” relation? Building on some revisionary suggestions concerning acyclicity and betterness, I make a case for hanging on to the presumption that “better than” is acyclic even if “is rationally preferred to” is not. As I explain, the divergence my view makes room for does not threaten to make “better than” judgments less relevant to choice than judgments about rational preference. To the contrary, it makes them more relevant. Toward the end of the paper, I extend my results to the relation “is morally better than” in light of the possibility that there might be moral preferability cycles.
KeywordsBetter than Cyclic preferences Intransitive relations Morally better Puzzle of the self-torturer Rational preferences Temkin
My thanks to Arif Ahmed, Kevin Baum, Christoph Fehige, Preston Greene, Christoph Lumer, Elijah Millgram, Michael Morreau, Stephan Padel, Mauro Rossi, Sarah Stroud, Christine Tappolet, Larry Temkin, Mariam Thalos, Mike White, and audience members at my talks at the University of Utrecht, Saarland University, and the University of Montreal for helpful discussions of earlier drafts of this paper. I am also grateful for the helpful anonymous comments I received and for supporting research funds from the University of Utah and from the Charles H. Monson Esteemed Scholar Award.
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