Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TRANSITIVITY, ORDINAL PREFERENCE, RATIONALITY, AND THE UNITED STATES SENATE

I was watching the Senate debate on health care yet again, and as Orrin Hatch droned on in his characteristically sanctimonious fashion, my mind began to wander. I found myself, naturally, thinking about rational choice theory, and the relationship between formal rationality and the transitivity of ordinal preference.

If I prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream, as I do, and if I also prefer vanilla ice cream to strawberry ice cream [as I also do], then, if I am rational and have transitive preferences, I ought to prefer chocolate ice cream to strawberry ice cream. This is not really a very strong rationality constraint, after all. It even allows me to prefer pistachio to any of them, which from a somewhat broader perspective is clearly insane. But surely any minimally rational person who prefers A to B and B to C will prefer A to C.

So I decided to test myself to see whether I meet the minimal requirements of formal rationality [pretty much a necessity for someone who features himself a philosopher]. I hate Orrin Hatch, I reflected. I also hate Jeff Sessions. After turning the matter over in my mind, I realized that I hate Orrin Hatch more than I hate Jeff Sessions. I mean, Sessions is a despicable pipsqueak, and arguably the stupidest person in public life. But Hatch is oily and smug. No contest. I also hate Joe Lieberman [who doesn't?]. He is what in Jewish circles is known as a passive aggressive man, someone who smiles and is sweet, and stabs you in the back. But I hate Jeff Sessions more than I hate Joe Lieberman, because at least Lieberman once actually manifested some concern for civil rights, whereas Sessions is an out and out racist.

Once I had gotten this far, I was ready to test my rationality. I hate Hatch more than Sessions and Sessions more than Lieberman. I ought, in all consistency, therefore, to hate Hatch more than Lieberman. But when I held the two before my mind -- a distasteful but necessary exercise -- I realized that the blind fury Lieberman inspires in me exceeds even the loathing I feel for Hatch. Which is a contradiction.

There it is, then. Politics has driven me crazy.

2 comments:

Rodrigo said...

Maybe logic doesn't work when talking about politics.

matthew said...

I hate Hatch more. That dimwit, Bush yes-man is from my state and that leaves me zero pride. Nevertheless, could he have oozed out of any other state though? I doubt it.