The argument from small improvement is a red herring

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The much-discussed ‘Argument from Small Improvement’ has been advanced both as a reason to reject (tripartite) Completeness, one of the standard axioms of decision theory, and to accept the possibility of rationally incomparable choices. But this form of argument cannot be an effective basis for either of these conclusions, unless one already has some prior, independent reason to prefer Transitivity to Completeness as a constraint on rational preferences (or rational values). In particular, I show how a reverse argument from small improvement can be constructed, starting from the assumption of tripartite Completeness, to the conclusion that Transitivity fails. I conclude that this form of argument as it has been standardly presented in the literature is a kind of ‘red herring’. We can only make progress here by evaluating the reasons independent of either such argument to prefer one or other of Transitivity or Completeness.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInquiry (United Kingdom)
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Decision Theory
  • Rational Choice
  • Transitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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