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To be or not to be involved: a questionnaire-experimental view on Harsanyi’s utilitarian ethics

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  • Yoram Amiel
  • Frank Cowell
  • Wulf Gaertner

    ()

Abstract

According to standard theory founded on Harsanyi (1953, 1955) a social welfarefunction can be appropriately based on the individual's approach to choice underuncertainty. We investigate whether people really do rank distributions according tothe same principles irrespective of whether the comparison involves money payoffs ina risky situation or the distribution of income among persons. We use a questionnaireexperiment to focus on the two different interpretations of the Harsanyi approach.There are important, systematic differences that transcend the cultural background ofrespondents.
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Suggested Citation

  • Yoram Amiel & Frank Cowell & Wulf Gaertner, 2009. "To be or not to be involved: a questionnaire-experimental view on Harsanyi’s utilitarian ethics," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 32(2), pages 299-316, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:sochwe:v:32:y:2009:i:2:p:299-316
    DOI: 10.1007/s00355-008-0324-x
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:ubc:bricol:90-03 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Smith, Adam, 1759. "The Theory of Moral Sentiments," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number smith1759.
    3. Amiel,Yoram & Cowell,Frank, 1999. "Thinking about Inequality," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521466967, October.
    4. Stefan Traub & Christian Seidl & Ulrich Schmidt & Maria Levati, 2005. "Friedman, Harsanyi, Rawls, Boulding – or somebody else? An experimental investigation of distributive justice," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 24(2), pages 283-309, April.
    5. Yoram Amiel & Frank Cowell & Wulf Gaertner, 2009. "To be or not to be involved: a questionnaire-experimental view on Harsanyi’s utilitarian ethics," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 32(2), pages 299-316, February.
    6. Yoram Amiel & Frank Cowell & Wulf Gaertner, 2012. "Distributional orderings: an approach with seven flavors," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 73(3), pages 381-399, September.
    7. Mongin, Philippe, 2001. "The impartial observer theorem of social ethics," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 17(02), pages 147-179, October.
    8. 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 434-434.
    9. Rubinstein, Ariel, 1999. "Experience from a Course in Game Theory: Pre- and Postclass Problem Sets as a Didactic Device," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 155-170, July.
    10. Amiel, Yoram & Cowell, Frank, 2000. "Attitudes towards risk and inequality : a questionnaire-experimental approach," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 2105, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    11. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309-309.
    12. Wulf Gaertner & Lars Schwettmann, 2007. "Equity, Responsibility and the Cultural Dimension," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 74(296), pages 627-649, November.
    13. Harsanyi, John C, 1978. "Bayesian Decision Theory and Utilitarian Ethics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 68(2), pages 223-228, May.
    14. Michele Bernasconi, 2002. "How should income be divided? questionnaire evidence from the theory of “Impartial preferences”," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 9(1), pages 163-195, December.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Konow, James, 2008. "The Moral High Ground: An Experimental Study of Spectator Impartiality," MPRA Paper 18558, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Yoram Amiel & Frank Cowell & Wulf Gaertner, 2009. "To be or not to be involved: a questionnaire-experimental view on Harsanyi’s utilitarian ethics," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 32(2), pages 299-316, February.
    3. Bleichrodt, Han & Rohde, Kirsten I.M. & Van Ourti, Tom, 2012. "An experimental test of the concentration index," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 86-98.
    4. Corazzini, Luca & Esposito, Lucio & Majorano, Francesca, 2012. "Reign in hell or serve in heaven? A cross-country journey into the relative vs absolute perceptions of wellbeing," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 81(3), pages 715-730.
    5. İbrahim Erdem SEÇİLMİŞ, 2014. "Seniority: A Blessing or A Curse? The Effect of Economics Training on the Perception of Distributive Justice," Sosyoekonomi Journal, Sosyoekonomi Society, issue 22(22).
    6. Kristof Bosmans & Lucio Esposito, 2015. "Should Fines Depend on Income? A Questionnaire Study on Values and Institutions," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 171(2), pages 355-371, June.
    7. Yoram Amiel & Michele Bernasconi & Frank Cowell & Valentino Dardanoni, 2015. "Do we value mobility?," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 44(2), pages 231-255, February.
    8. Liang, Che-Yuan, 2013. "Optimal Inequality behind the Veil of Ignorance," Working Paper Series 2013:7, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
    9. James Konow, 2009. "Is fairness in the eye of the beholder? An impartial spectator analysis of justice," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 33(1), pages 101-127, June.
    10. Yoram Amiel & Frank Cowell & Wulf Gaertner, 2012. "Distributional orderings: an approach with seven flavors," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 73(3), pages 381-399, September.
    11. Frank Cowell & Marc Fleurbaey & Bertil Tungodden, 2015. "The tyranny puzzle in social preferences: an empirical investigation," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 45(4), pages 765-792, December.
    12. repec:kap:theord:v:83:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11238-017-9599-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Hong, Hao & Ding, Jianfeng & Yao, Yang, 2015. "Individual social welfare preferences: An experimental study," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 89-97.
    14. Schildberg-Hörisch, Hannah, 2010. "Is the veil of ignorance only a concept about risk? An experiment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(11-12), pages 1062-1066, December.
    15. Daniel M�ller & Sander Renes, 2017. "Fairness views and political preferences - Evidence from a large online experiment," Working Papers 2017-10, Faculty of Economics and Statistics, University of Innsbruck.
    16. Corazzini, Luca & Esposito, Lucio & Majorano, Francesca, 2011. "Exploring the absolutist vs relativist perception of poverty using a cross-country questionnaire survey," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 32(2), pages 273-283, March.
    17. Lucio Esposito & Francesca Majorano, 2011. "What principles should inform poverty indices? Insights from a cross-country survey," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 41(2), pages 387-420, October.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C13 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Estimation: General
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement

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