<sociology, philosophy of politics> a systematic difficulty with the attempt to make consistent social choices by majority rule. Suppose that among three options, equal portions of the population rank them 1-2-3, 2-3-1, and 3-1-2. Then, even though the relative preferences seem rational and evenly divided, in head-to-head competitions, two-thirds of the voters favor 1 over 2, and two-thirds 2 over 3, yet two-thirds favor 3 over 1. Although several Enlightenment thinkers had pointed out similar difficulties in the foundations of social contract theory, twentieth-century economist Kenneth Arrow demonstrated formally that the collective preferences of groups cannot always be determined from the individual preferences of their members. Recommended Reading: Kenneth J. Arrow, Social Choice and Individual Values (Yale, 1970); Michael A. E. Dummett, Voting Procedures (Clarendon, 1985); and James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent (Michigan, 1962).
[A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names]
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