Making Non-Transitive Betterness Behave

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
Author: Gerard Vong1
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It is exceedingly plausible that the normative reason involving relations, ‘more reason to do than’ and ‘is rationally preferred to’, are transitive. Many philosophers and economists use the plausibility of covariation between these reason involving relations and the ‘better than’ relation to argue – or more often, to insist – that the ‘better than’ relation is also transitive. But Rachels, Temkin and Baumann provide powerful arguments for non-transitive betterness. Conversely, some defenders of non-transitive betterness, such as Friedman, use the covariation of betterness and reason to argue that the reason involving relations are also non-transitive. I will argue that both types of covariation argument are overly hasty. To do so, I will present two functions that input a non-transitive axiological ranking and output a transitive deontic ranking. I then argue that an ethical principle involving these functions has independent plausibility and avoids important objections associated with non-transitive betterness.