IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this article or follow this journal

The Domain and Interpretation of Utility Functions: An Exploration

  • Marc Le Menestrel


  • Luk Van Wassenhove

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

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Article provided by Springer in its journal Theory and Decision.

Volume (Year): 51 (2001)
Issue (Month): 2 (December)
Pages: 329-349

in new window

Handle: RePEc:kap:theord:v:51:y:2001:i:2:p:329-349
Contact details of provider: Web page:

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Sen, A., 1996. "Maximisation and the Act of Choice," Papers 270, Banca Italia - Servizio di Studi.
  2. Starmer, C., 1998. "Experiments in Economics...(Should We Trust the Dismal Scientists In White Coats?)," University of East Anglia Discussion Papers in Economics 9801, School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..
  3. 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.
  4. Marc Le Menestrel, 2001. "A process approach to the utility for gambling," Economics Working Papers 570, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  5. Nash, John, 1950. "The Bargaining Problem," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 18(2), pages 155-162, April.
  6. Peter Fishburn & Peter Wakker, 1995. "The Invention of the Independence Condition for Preferences," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 41(7), pages 1130-1144, July.
  7. Irwin, Julie R, et al, 1993. " Preference Reversals and the Measurement of Environmental Values," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 6(1), pages 5-18, January.
  8. Robert J. Aumann, 1998. "Common Priors: A Reply to Gul," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(4), pages 929-938, July.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:kap:theord:v:51:y:2001:i:2:p:329-349. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla)

or (Christopher F. Baum)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.