Intransitive Ethics

Journal of Moral Philosophy 6 (3):277-297 (2009)
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Abstract

This article addresses the question of whether the relation of moral preference is transitive. I argue, following Larry Temkin and Stuart Rachels, that any ethical theory complex enough to be even minimally plausible allows us to generate intransitive sets of preferences. Even act utilitarianism cannot avoid this predicament unless we accept its least plausible version. We must reevaluate the assumption that an ethical theory must be transitive in order to be rational. This problem amounts to a foundational crisis in ethics. However, it has not been taken seriously for two reasons—the belief that the problem has limited scope; and the claim that arguments against transitivity are 'merely' Sorites arguments. This article responds to both of these objections. I also point out some connections between intransitivity and the debate surrounding skepticism about the moral significance of numbers

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Citations of this work

Each Counts for One.Daniel Muñoz - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies.
Sources of transitivity.Daniel Muñoz - 2023 - Economics and Philosophy 39 (2):285-306.
The Many, the Few, and the Nature of Value.Daniel Muñoz - 2022 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 9 (4):70-87.
Making Non-Transitive Betterness Behave.Gerard Vong - 2018 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 15 (5):495-515.
Priority to the young or to those with least lifetime health?Ole Frithjof Norheim - 2010 - American Journal of Bioethics 10 (4):60 – 61.

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References found in this work

Should the numbers count?John Taurek - 1977 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (4):293-316.
A Continuum Argument for Intransitivity.Larry S. Temkin - 1996 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 25 (3):175-210.
The numbers should count.Gregory S. Kavka - 1979 - Philosophical Studies 36 (3):285 - 294.
Aggregation and two moral methods.F. M. Kamm - 2005 - Utilitas 17 (1):1-23.
Skepticism about Saving the Greater Number.Michael Otsuka - 2004 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 32 (4):413-426.

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