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Utilitarianism and the theory of justice

In: Handbook of Social Choice and Welfare

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  • Blackorby, Charles
  • Bossert, Walter
  • Donaldson, David

Abstract

This chapter provides a survey of utilitarian theories of justice. We review and discuss axiomatizations of utilitarian and generalized-utilitarian social-evaluation functionals in a welfarist framework. Section 2 introduces, along with some basic definitions, social-evaluation functionals. Furthermore, we discuss several information-invariance assumptions. In Section 3, we introduce the welfarism axioms unrestricted domain, binary independence of irrelevant alternatives and Pareto indifference, and use them to characterize welfarist social evaluation. These axioms imply that there exists a single ordering of utility vectors that can be used to rank all alternatives for any profile of individual utility functions. We call such an ordering a social-evaluation ordering, and we introduce several examples of classes of such orderings. In addition, we formulate some further basic axioms. Section 4 provides characterizations of generalized-utilitarian social-evaluation orderings, both in a static and in an intertemporal framework. Section 5 deals with the special case of utilitarianism. We review some known axiomatizations and, in addition, prove a new characterization result that uses an axiom we call incremental equity. In Section 6, we analyze generalizations of utilitarian principles to variable-population environments. We extend the welfarism theorem to a variable-population framework and provide a characterization of critical-level generalized utilitarianism. Section 7 provides an extension to situations in which the alternatives resulting from choices among feasible actions are not known with certainty. In this setting, we discuss characterization as well as impossibility results. Section 8 concludes.

Suggested Citation

  • Blackorby, Charles & Bossert, Walter & Donaldson, David, 2002. "Utilitarianism and the theory of justice," Handbook of Social Choice and Welfare,in: K. J. Arrow & A. K. Sen & K. Suzumura (ed.), Handbook of Social Choice and Welfare, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 11, pages 543-596 Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socchp:1-11
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    JEL classification:

    • I0 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General

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