Leading You Down the Choice Path: Rational Persuasion as Collective Rationality

32 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2010

See all articles by Bruce Chapman

Bruce Chapman

Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

Date Written: June 1, 2006


This paper explores the advantages of a form of non-arbitrary path dependence within social choice called rational persuasion. Persuasion is characterized as conversationally leading one's protagonist down a particular choice path to a particular result. The choice path is enticing, or rationally persuasive, because it "makes sense" in a way that alternative choice paths do not. It tends to group, or partition, alternative choices in a way that either allows us to think of the partitioned alternatives as instantiations of some concept or presents us with some issue that we recognize as important in the choice situation. Not all partitions of the alternatives do this equally well. Nor are they as easy to talk about under the shared concepts that will organize, and be persuasive in, conversation. In this respect rational persuasion is a partition dependent idea.

However, the paper also shows that the partitions have to be presented in a certain order if social choices (and the individual preferences that give rise to them) are going to be sensitive to the issues at stake as well as sensible under them. So, in the final analysis, rational persuasion must not only be partition dependent, but path dependent as well. However, contrary to what Kenneth Arrow suggests in Social Choice and Individual Values, such path dependent social choice is not arbitrary. Indeed, because rational persuasion is a form of social interaction that is both sensible and sensitive to the issues that divide us, persuasion is an exhibition of our collective rationality. It is a mistake, under the idea of a social preference ordering (which precludes path dependent social choice), to define it away as a possible approach to the social choice problem.

Suggested Citation

Chapman, Bruce, Leading You Down the Choice Path: Rational Persuasion as Collective Rationality (June 1, 2006). Queen's Law Journal, Vol. 35, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1628324

Bruce Chapman (Contact Author)

Faculty of Law, University of Toronto ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
416-978-6911 (Phone)
416 978 2648 (Fax)

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