Heuristics and biases in a purported counter-example to the acyclicity of 'better than'

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 7 (3):285-299 (2008)
Abstract
Stuart Rachels and Larry Temkin have offered a purported counter-example to the acyclicity of the relationship 'all things considered better than'. This example invokes our intuitive preferences over pairs of alternatives involving a single person's painful experiences of varying intensity and duration. These preferences, Rachels and Temkin claim, are confidently held, entirely reasonable, and cyclical. They conclude that we should drop acyclicity as a requirement of rationality. I argue that, together with the findings of recent research on the way people evaluate episodes of pain, the use of a heuristic known as similarity-based decision-making explains why our intuitive preferences may violate acyclicity in this example. I argue that this explanation should lead us to regard these preferences with suspicion, because it indicates that they may be the result of one or more biases. I conclude that Rachels' and Temkin's example does not provide sufficient grounds for rejecting acyclicity
Keywords Rational choice theory  transitivity  decision theory
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