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The Domain and Interpretation of Utility Functions: An Exploration

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  • Marc Le Menestrel

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  • Luk Van Wassenhove

Abstract

This paper proposes an exploration of the methodology of utility functions that distinguishes interpretation from representation. While representation univocally assigns numbers to the entities of the domain of utility functions, interpretation relates these entities with empirically observable objects of choice. This allows us to make explicit the standard interpretation of utility functions which assumes that two objects have the same utility if and only if the individual is indifferent among them. We explore the underlying assumptions of such an hypothesis and propose a non-standard interpretation according to which objects of choice have a well-defined utility although individuals may vary in the way they treat these objects in a specific context. We provide examples of such a methodological approach that may explain some reversal of preferences and suggest possible mathematical formulations for further research. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Suggested Citation

  • Marc Le Menestrel & Luk Van Wassenhove, 2001. "The Domain and Interpretation of Utility Functions: An Exploration," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 51(2), pages 329-349, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:theord:v:51:y:2001:i:2:p:329-349
    DOI: 10.1023/A:1015563228687
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Nash, John, 1950. "The Bargaining Problem," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 18(2), pages 155-162, April.
    2. Amartya Sen, 1997. "Maximization and the Act of Choice," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(4), pages 745-780, July.
    3. Irwin, Julie R & Slovic, Paul & Lichtenstein, Sarah & McClelland, Gary H., 1993. "Preference Reversals and the Measurement of Environmental Values," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 6(1), pages 5-18, January.
    4. Peter Fishburn & Peter Wakker, 1995. "The Invention of the Independence Condition for Preferences," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 41(7), pages 1130-1144, July.
    5. Robert J. Aumann, 1998. "Common Priors: A Reply to Gul," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(4), pages 929-938, July.
    6. Chris Starmer, 1999. "Experiments in economics: should we trust the dismal scientists in white coats?," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 6(1), pages 1-30.
    7. Marc Le Menestrel, 2001. "A Process Approach to the Utility for Gambling," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 50(3), pages 249-262, May.
    8. Fishburn, Peter C, 1989. "Retrospective on the Utility Theory of von Neumann and Morgenstern," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 2(2), pages 127-157, June.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Le Menestrel, Marc & Van Wassenhove, Luk N., 2004. "Ethics outside, within, or beyond OR models?," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 153(2), pages 477-484, March.
    2. Marc Le Menestrel, 2003. "A one-shot Prisoners’ Dilemma with procedural utility," Economics Working Papers 819, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    3. Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde & Raphaël Giraud, 2005. "Accounting for Framing-Effects - an informational approach to intensionality in the Bolker-Jeffrey decision model," Working Papers ijn_00000656, HAL.
    4. Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde & Raphaël Giraud, 2009. "Framing effects as violations of extensionality," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 67(4), pages 385-404, October.
    5. Marc Le Menestrel & Luk N. Wassenhove, 2016. "Subjectively biased objective functions," EURO Journal on Decision Processes, Springer;EURO - The Association of European Operational Research Societies, vol. 4(1), pages 73-83, June.
    6. Marc Le Menestrel & Bertrand Lemaire, 2002. "Additive utility with intransitive indifference and without independence: A homogeneous case," Economics Working Papers 628, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    7. Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde & Raphaël Giraud, 2005. "Accounting for Framing-Effects - an informational approach to intensionality in the Bolker-Jeffrey decision model," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) ijn_00000656, HAL.
    8. Raphaël Giraud, 2005. "Anomalies de la théorie des préférences. Une interprétation et une proposition de formalisation," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 56(4), pages 829-854.
    9. Marc Le Menestrel, 2007. "The biased balance: Observation, formalism and interpretation of a dissymmetric measuring device," Economics Working Papers 1006, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Utility; representation; interpretation; preference reversal;

    JEL classification:

    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
    • D00 - Microeconomics - - General - - - General
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty

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