Where to Eat Out or How to Find the Right Priorities

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You may say that in a world of restrictions freedom is often limited to choosing between options. As Immanuel Kant wrote: “Freedom is the insight into necessity.” Sorry about the name-dropping here, I am not a big fan of most things Kant wrote, including this principle of his. However, even if you believe it, you should sort out your priorities in order to make good choices. And if you think freedom is much more, you still have to give your decisions the right basis. For simple comparisons of options, I suggest a basic procedure. I assume that the alternatives are exclusive, which is not always the case. This is the procedure:

  1. Compare all alternatives with each other.
  2. For every pair of options, give one point to the one you prefer. Always choose one to give the point to, even if you think they are fairly close.
  3. After comparing all pairs, sum up the points.
  4. You will get a list which should give you nearly an order.
  5. For stretches of results with the same points for more than one option, you can either consider combining the options into one (cheating) or repeat the procedure for those.

As an example, consider you want to eat out and are not decided yet where to go. You have five options:

  • Steak house
  • Fast food
  • Italian
  • Chinese
  • Indian

The following table shows the result of the comparison. When comparing a pair, we put a “1” into the column of the preferred alternative. When building the pairs you only need to go through each row from left to right to the diagonal (filled with “X”). Otherwise, you would compare each pair twice. If you prefer the option of the column, the “1” will land above the diagonal. If you prefer the option of the row, the “1” will be below the diagonal (e.g. in the Steak house vs. Indian comparison).

Indian Chinese Italian Fast Food Steak house
Steak house

1

1

X

Fast food

1

1

X

Italian

1

1

X

Chinese

1

X

1

1

Indian

X

1

Sums

3

1

2

1

2

It looks like Indian is the preferred alternative. If you somehow come to the conclusion that this is not what you really want, you could compare Italian with steak house and take one of those two.

It can also be used to filter down a list of very many options to the preferred five, looking at the features of the options more closely with the another approach, which I discuss in this post about complex alternatives.

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