The Money Pump Is Necessarily Diachronic

Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin/Philosophy (2014)
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In “The Irrelevance of the Diachronic Money-Pump Argument for Acyclicity,” The Journal of Philosophy CX, 8 (August 2013), 460-464, Johan E. Gustafsson contends that if Davidson, McKinsey and Suppes’ diachronic money-pump argument in their "Outlines of a Formal Theory of Value, I," Philosophy of Science 22 (1955), 140-160 is valid, so is the synchronic argument Gustafsson himself offers. He concludes that the latter renders irrelevant diachronic choice considerations in general, and the two best-known diachronic solutions to the money pump problem in particular. I argue here that this reasoning is incorrect, and that Gustafsson’s synchronic argument is faulty on independent grounds. Specifically, it is based on a false analogy between the derivation of a synchronic ordinal ranking from a transitive series of pairwise comparisons, and the putative derivation of such a ranking from an intransitive series. The latter is not possible under the assumption of revealed preference theory, and is highly improbable even if that assumption is rejected. Moreover, Gustafsson’s argument raises issues of fidelity to the historical texts that must be addressed. I conclude that the money pump, and cyclical choice more generally, are necessarily diachronic; and therefore that the two best-known diachronic solutions to the money pump problem remain relevant.

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Adrian M. S. Piper
APRA Foundation, Berlin


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