Satisficing: The Rationality of Preferring What is Good Enough

Dissertation, University of Michigan (1998)

Michael Weber
Bowling Green State University
It is widely maintained that self-interested rationality is a matter of maximizing one's own good or well-being. Rationality more generally is also frequently characterized in maximizing terms: the rational thing to do in any decision context is whatever is best in terms of one's interests or will lead to the greatest preference-satisfaction, My dissertation consists of three independent papers that challenge this orthodoxy by lending support to "satisficing," the idea that it is rational to prefer what is good enough. In the first I argue that the preferences frequently displayed in the Allais Paradox can not be reconciled with expected utility maximizing and therefore must be construed in satisficing terms. To the extent that common sense is an important touchstone for theory choice, this lends support to satisficing. In the second, I argue more directly for satisficing by claiming that satisficing is the best way to deal with the different temporal perspectives available to human beings. In the third, I argue that supererogation, the idea that options which are not optimal can nonetheless be morally or rationally acceptable, depends on "optional reasons," I claim, further, that the criticisms of the very idea of optional reasons are not compelling. I also include an appendix which addresses Derek Parfit's challenge to prudential rationality.
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