it can also mean having objectives that are in conflict.
I think this is the core of the human condition: almost all of our objectives (assuming we have them) are in conflict with others, or at least they push against boundary conditions. To me, this is why economics is such a powerful instrument to understand behaviour: we have to trade off stuff all the time (we don’t always do this consciously, but that’s a different story!).
then my conflicting objectives seem irrational.
Exactly. Perceived irrationality is, in many cases, simply the failure to recognize that conflict.
I recently read Kenneth Arrow’s work on social choice. For someone who works a lot using utility theory, it was a real eye opener.
Yes, for sure. In a sense it is bizarre that economics seems to have needed the specific behavioural focus of economists like Richard Thaler and George Loewenstein, as well as psychologists like Daniel Kahneman and Dan Ariely to reinforce, and put back on the agenda, some really solid behavioural thinking early on by ‘mainstream’ economists like Arrow, Coase, Simon, Schelling and more.
Not only is much of BE not new, it was well and truly part of Economics from Adam Smith until the second half of last century.