Box 18, Item 1225: Draft of A dialethic approach to paradoxes of social and political theory ; Abstract of Problems in deep ecopolitical theory


Box 18, Item 1225: Draft of A dialethic approach to paradoxes of social and political theory ; Abstract of Problems in deep ecopolitical theory


Printouts of draft paper and abstract, undated.


Papers original housed together with a paper clip. One of seven papers digitised from item 1225.



The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 18, Item 1225


This item was identified for digitisation at the request of The University of Queensland's 2020 Fryer Library Fellow, Dr. N.A.J. Taylor.


For all enquiries about this work, please contact the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.


[3] leaves. 2.02 MB.




A dialethic approach to paradoxes of social and political theory
Conspectus: The rough working idea is this: These paradoxes get treated in
the same way as moral dilemmas in deontic theory. Namely they are
accepted, so theory and assumptions do not require revision and excision.
Rather is required is elaboration, additions to say what do when a dilemma is
encounter (e.g. proceed to fall back on rational decision theory, as modified).
Thus it is with voters paradoxes, inconsistent preferences, Arrow’s theorem,
and so on: STET! let them stand. If they are encountered head-on, then work
through them using alternative methods. It is an important point that methods
do not give out, as things do not go haywire when consistency is
Let us start with desires and preferences, which are the basic items in much theory (eg.
stock economics). Although standard theory smooths out—removes—inconsistencies in
agents’ desires and preferences, it is widely appreciated that they can both be inconsistent. A

person can both want something for one set of reasons or urges and not want it perhaps for
another (e.g. because moral constraints enter).

The so-called empirical “problem” of

nontransitive preferences is, turned around, simply a case of inconsistency. A simple case (like

that of voting paradoxes) is where an agent has circular preferences. Over some loop, which
may be quite large an agent prefers a to bi, bi to b2, ... bn-i to bn and bn to a. So by

transitivity this agent prefers a to bi and bi to a, and similar, which preferences are

inconsistent. Given the usual assumption that a Pb implies ~bPa, these circular preferences are
explicitly inconsistent. Yet such preference ordering are frequently observed, especially in
children (who are often keen to exhibit preferences).

A theory admitting explictly inconsistent preferences has to be paraconsistent, on pain of
triviality otherwise. Certainly a theory where inconsistency was not exposed, but is to say

locked up in preference relations need not be paraconsistent, but such a theory would be only
partial, not a sufficiently full theory revealing what was transpiring. A normal modal theory

would, for instance, be worthless in the presence of inconsistent preferences or desires,
because it would yield such results as that any such agent desires everything. (For instance, by

virtue of systematic requirements for D, desire, it follows that Dp & D~p -» DB. The system
requirements are A -* B/DA -» DB and DA & DB -> D(A & B).)

The state of an agent with inconsistent preferences or desires need not run out of control.

Consistency is not the only constraint, the only limit on logical licence, but a special, often
excessively powerful one. In these cases control can be provided by agents not processing
trivial preferences or desiresi, by some, sufficiently many, things not being preferred or

desired. More comprehensively, a rather minimally adequate agent will have both a logically
organised set of inclusions, preferences that obtain or are held, etc., and of exclusions, items
that are not desired etc. Thus a more satisfactory logic for this sort of area will exhibit both
acceptances and rejections. For example: i- DA & DB -> D(A & B) usual coounterexamples to

which assume inconsistent desire cannot obtain explicitly. Normally where h DA then i- D(A&

B); but of course an agent may not desire something on its own, which would be differently
formulated. Most important, h Dp. That is necessary, though far from sufficient for a coherent
agent (and it as with coherents agents, as distinct from consistent agents, that we are now

primarily concerned). Now it is not difficult to show that there are paraconsistent logical
theories that can combine all these sorts of features with inconsistency in desires or preferences,
e.g. with i- D (qo & ~qo) for some qo (for some agent).
If individual agents can have inconsistent motivational states, so, still more, can groups
of agents. Broadly, many sorts of pooling induce inconsistency: of information, knowledge,

and so on, as is now well appreciated. But if of beliefs why not of desires, if of information

why not of preferences, which, for one thing, are based on information? Such inconsistency
induced by aggregation is what manifests itself in voting paradoxes.

Now we can adapt an argument from what do in case of individual agent situation to
apply to what do in group case. Namely, not revise and elide, but proceed on through an
inconsistency; proceed by further available methods, e.g. further voting differently arranged.

(Compare perhaps a football match which results in a draw or stalemate. Do not go back and
try to start over. Play on into extra time, with new rules to give a more rapid outcome.)
To the extent that it can be carried out on the basis of received preference theory, standard

economic theory can be simulated on the basis of paraconsistent preference theory. For there

are, in general, simply more preferences to start with, for instance in extending to utility
functions, expanding typically in complete preference orderings. Indifference curves can be
constructed in the standard way, the only difference being that there will be some singularities,
as regards where items are both preferred and not.

A conundrum for green theory over democracy, which it typically supports, is put in a
sharp form as follows1: Democracy concerns procedures, environmentalism certain outcomes.
What guarantee can there be that the procedures will deliver the outcomes? That democracy will
yield a way of protesting environments?

First greens are not seeking guarantees, which they could not in general expect.


Goodin under way So-wind p.168.



A reshaping of social and political institutions, which are often outmoded or suboptimal
and certainly commonly anti-environmental, is now prominent on theoretical agendas, at least in
Australia. One such project is the multi-million dollar “Reshaping Australian Institutions”

project at the Australian National University.

At the same time there is widespread

disenchantment with prevailing politics in Australia. Accordingly there is an opportunity to put
radical green themes on agendas for real political and institutional change.
A deep change, however, which is what deep green theories require, encounters several

problems. For one, there appears to be a contradiction between demands for, on the one side,

increasing environmental regulations and welfare arrangements, characteristically dependent
upon bureaurcratic centralisation and economic growth, and on the other, decentralized lower

impact organisation, which halts anti-environmentally industry and economic growth. A

functional resolution, partially dissolving a central state, is outlined, along with a theory of

encephaletic organisation.
Further problems to surmount include human chauvinism and present-time bias, even in
present “best practice” democratic institutions. Deep demarchoidal resolutions of these
problems are sketched and defended.

R. Sylvan

Bungendore Australia 2621



Richard Sylvan, “Box 18, Item 1225: Draft of A dialethic approach to paradoxes of social and political theory ; Abstract of Problems in deep ecopolitical theory,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed May 18, 2024,

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