Solomonic Judgements: Studies in the Limitation of Rationality

Elster, Jon

This volume of essays is very much a sequel to the two earlier collections by Jon Elster, Ulysses and the Sirens and Sour Grapes. His topic is rationality--its scope, its limitations, and its failures. Elster considers rational responses to the insufficiency of reason itself and to the "indeterminacies" in deploying rational choice theory, and discusses the irrationality of not seeing when, where, and what these are. A key essay that gives the collection its title examines disputes in cases of child custody that are paradigmatically indeterminate. Leaving aside cases where one parent is patently unfit and assuming that protracted dispute is against the immediate interests of the child, Elster argues that three options present themselves: a strong presumption in favor of the mother, a strong presumption in favor of the primary caretaker, and tossing a coin. Though the first two options may be preferable in the short term, Elster argues that there is a case for randomization in the long term.

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