Are hard choices cases of incomparability?

Philosophical Issues 22 (1):106-126 (2012)
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Abstract

This paper presents an argument against the widespread view that ‘hard choices’ are hard because of the incomparability of the alternatives. The argument has two parts. First, I argue that any plausible theory of practical reason must be ‘comparativist’ in form, that is, it must hold that a comparative relation between the alternatives with respect to what matters in the choice determines a justified choice in that situation. If comparativist views of practical reason are correct, however, the incomparabilist view of hard choices should be rejected. Incomparabilism about hard choices leads us to an implausible error theory about the phenomenology of hard choices, threatens an unattractive view of human agency, and leaves us in perplexity about what we are doing when we choose in hard choices. The second part of the argument explores the main competitor to comparativist views of practical reason, noncomparativist view, according tow which a choice is justified so long as it is not worse than any of the alternatives. This view is often assumed by rational choice theorists but has its best philosophical defense in work by Joseph Raz. On Raz’s view, incomparabilism about hard choices avoids the problems faced if comparativism is correct, but it faces different difficulties. I argue that Raz’s noncomparativist view mistakenly assimilates practical reason to more restricted normative domains such as the law.

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Ruth Chang
Oxford University

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