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Clumps and Pumps: Clumpiness, Resolution and Rational Choice


It is widely held that the possibility of value-incomparability poses a serious threat to comparativism. Some comparativists propose to avoid this problem by supplementing the three traditional value relations with a fourth value relation, variously identified as ‘roughly equal’ or ‘on a par’. However, in a recent article in this journal, Nien-he Hsieh has proposed that the comparisons thought to require rough equality or parity could instead be understood in terms of the concept of ‘clumpiness’. Against this suggestion, Martin Peterson has argued that the concept of clumpiness allows agents to be exploited in money-pumps, thus removing the central appeal of the concept. In this note, I show that Peterson's argument fails to establish that the concept of clumpiness allows agents to be exploited in money-pumps.

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1 Griffin, J., Well-Being (Oxford, 1986); Parfit, D., Reasons and Persons (Oxford, 1984).

2 Chang, R., ‘The Possibility of Parity’, Ethics 112 (2002), pp. 659–88.

3 Hsieh, N., ‘Equality, Clumpiness and Incomparability’, Utilitas 17 (2005), pp. 180204.

4 Hsieh, ‘Equality, Clumpiness and Incomparability’, p. 184.

5 Peterson, M., ‘Parity, Clumpiness and Rational Choice’, Utilitas 19 (2007), pp. 505–13.

6 For this example, see Chang, R., ‘Introduction’, in her Incommensurability, Incomparability, and Practical Reason (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 134.

7 This argument for incomparability by the three traditional value relations is termed ‘The Small Improvement Argument’. For a thorough recent discussion, see Espinoza, N., ‘The Small Improvement Argument’, Synthese 168 (2008), pp. 127–39.

8 Hsieh, ‘Equality, Clumpiness and Incomparability’, p. 184.

9 Hsieh, ‘Equality, Clumpiness and Incomparability’, p. 186.

10 M. Peterson, ‘Parity, Clumpiness and Rational Choice’, pp. 512–13. In the same article, Peterson also presents money-pump arguments against parity and rough equality. Money-pump arguments were originally devised to justify standard assumptions about consistency of preferences in economic theory. For a careful discussion of this use of money-pump arguments, see Cubitt, R. and Sugden, R., ‘On Money Pumps’, Games and Economic Behaviour 37 (2001), pp. 121–60.

11 The rationale for making the choices a matter of surprise to the agent is to avoid the objection that it might be irrational to embark on a sequence of choices that one knows in advance will make one worse off. Henceforth, I shall make the surprise element a tacit assumption of any further versions of the money-pump argument.

12 M. Peterson, ‘Parity, Clumpiness and Rational Choice’, p. 513.

13 I am grateful to an anonymous referee for raising this possibility.

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  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
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