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Measurement theory and the foundations of utilitarianism

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  • John Weymark

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Abstract

This article reconsiders the Harsanyi--Sen debate concerning whether Harsanyi is justified in interpreting his Aggregation and Impartial Observer Theorems as providing axiomatizations of utilitarianism. Sen's criticism and its formalization by Weymark are based on the claim that von Neumann--Morgenstern utility theory is ordinal, whereas Harsanyi's utilitarian conclusions require cardinal utility. Proposals for overcoming Sen's objection that appeal to formal measurement theory are considered. It is argued that one of these proposals due to Broome and Risse rightly points to a feature of expected utility theory that was ignored by Sen and Weymark, but that this proposal does not provide a normatively compelling justification for cardinal utility. The other proposal due to Broome is shown to make use of a strength of preference relation in addition to the axioms of expected utility theory.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Springer in its journal Social Choice and Welfare.

Volume (Year): 25 (2005)
Issue (Month): 2 (December)
Pages: 527-555

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Handle: RePEc:spr:sochwe:v:25:y:2005:i:2:p:527-555

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  1. P. Mongin & C. d'Aspremont, 1996. "Utility theory and ethics," THEMA Working Papers 96-32, THEMA (THéorie Economique, Modélisation et Applications), Université de Cergy-Pontoise.
  2. John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434.
  3. Milton Friedman & L. J. Savage, 1948. "The Utility Analysis of Choices Involving Risk," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56, pages 279.
  4. Fishburn, Peter C, 1989. " Retrospective on the Utility Theory of von Neumann and Morgenstern," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 2(2), pages 127-57, June.
  5. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309.
  6. Blackorby, Charles & Donaldson, David & Weymark, John A., 1999. "Harsanyi's social aggregation theorem for state-contingent alternatives1," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 365-387, November.
  7. Mandler, Michael, 1999. "Dilemmas in Economic Theory: Persisting Foundational Problems in Microeconomics," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195100877.
  8. Milton Friedman & L. J. Savage, 1952. "The Expected-Utility Hypothesis and the Measurability of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 60, pages 463.
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Cited by:
  1. repec:hal:cesptp:halshs-00177374 is not listed on IDEAS
  2. Nascimento, Leandro, 2012. "The ex-ante aggregation of opinions under uncertainty," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 7(3), September.
  3. Thibault Gajdos & Feriel Kandil, 2008. "The ignorant observer," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 31(2), pages 193-232, August.
  4. John A Weymark, . "Social Welfare Functions," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers vuecon-sub-13-00018, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.

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