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Mereological Dominance and the Logic of Better-Than

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 March 2016

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey,


It's been argued that better-than is non-transitive – that there are some value bearers for which better-than fails to generate an acyclic ordering. Michael Huemer has offered a powerful objection to this view, which he dubs ‘The Dominance Argument’. In what follows, I consider the extent to which there is a plausible response to be made on behalf of those who hold that better-than is non-transitive. I conclude that there is.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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1 For example, see Broome, John, Weighing Lives (Oxford, 2004), p. 50 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 See Temkin, Larry, ‘Intransitivity and the Mere Addition Paradox’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 16 (1987), pp. 138–87Google Scholar; Temkin, ‘A Continuum Argument for Intransitivity’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 25 (1996), pp. 175–210; Temkin, Rethinking the Good (Oxford, 2012); Rachels, Stuart, ‘Counterexamples to the Transitivity of Better Than’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 76 (1998), 7183 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Persson, Ingmar, From Morality to the End of Reason (Oxford, 2013), pp. 218–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 See Huemer, Michael, ‘In Defense of Repugnance’, Mind 117 (2008), pp. 899933 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 95; Huemer, ‘Against Equality and Priority’, Utilitas 24 (2012), pp. 483–509, at 497–8; Huemer, ‘Transitivity, Comparative Value, and the Methods of Ethics’, Ethics 123 (2013), pp. 318–45, at 335–6.

4 The first appears in Huemer, ‘In Defense’ and ‘Transitivity’, while the second appears in Huemer, ‘Against Equality’.

5 See Huemer, ‘In Defense’, p. 335. In what follows, I take better-than to mean ‘all-things-considered better than’.

6 This section is more or less just an explanation of the arguments found in Huemer's work.

7 Many thanks to David Black, Michael Huemer and Larry Temkin for insightful comments on early drafts as well as an anonymous referee for Utilitas, who saved me from many embarrassing mistakes.