Rationality, Morality, and Impossibility Theorems

Fred Frohock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The impossibility theorem developed by Kenneth Arrow has implications for both rationality and morality in political thought. Transitivity in a collective ordering can be assured only with a decisive set, but this outcome is acknowledged as morally undesirable. The alternatives exhibited by the theorem thus seem to require a choice between rationality and morality. But exit routes can be cut out of this dilemma with the idea of a conditional ordering, one where warranting factors attach to a ranking of alternatives. Conditional orderings form two senses of collective rationality. One is represented by compound directives, which avoid the rational problems of the theorem by warranting local orderings. The second is moral fusion, which requires a reasoned dominance in collective outcomes. These two forms of conditional rationality put into relief the restricted scope of the composition rules and individualism of Arrow's theorem, and suggest alternative relationships of individual and social whole.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)373-384
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1980
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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