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The relevance of utilirianism

  • Mongin, Philipppe

    ()

    (HEC Paris)

  • Fleurbaey, Marc

Author's abstract. Harsanyi invested his Aggregation Theorem and Impartial Observer Theorem with deep utilitarian sense, but Sen redescribed them as "representation theorems" with little ethical import. This negative view has gained wide acquiescence in economics. Against it, we support the utilitarian interpretation by a novel argument relative to the Aggregation Theorem. We suppose that a utilitarian observer evaluates non-risky alternatives by the sum of individual utilities and investigate his von Neumann-Morgenstern (VNM) preference on risky alternatives. Adding some technical assumptions to Harsanyi’s, we conclude that (i) this observer would use the utility sum as a VNM utility function, and crucially, (ii) any social observer would evaluate both risky and non-risky alternatives in terms of a weighted utility sum. Hence, pace Sen, VNM theory can give some interesting support to utilitarianism. The argument is conveyed by means of three theorems that encapsulate Harsanyi’s original one as a particular step.

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Paper provided by HEC Paris in its series Les Cahiers de Recherche with number 955.

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Length: 26 pages
Date of creation: 26 Nov 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ebg:heccah:0955
Contact details of provider: Postal: HEC Paris, 78351 Jouy-en-Josas cedex, France
Web page: http://www.hec.fr/

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  1. Marc Fleurbaey, 2009. "Assessing risky social situations," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 27006, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  2. DEÂ MEYER, Bernard & MONGINÂ , Philippe, 1994. "A Note on Affine Aggregation," CORE Discussion Papers 1994014, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  3. Grandmont, Jean-Michel, 1972. "Continuity properties of a von Neumann-Morgenstern utility," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 45-57, February.
  4. Peter A. Diamond, 1967. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparison of Utility: Comment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 765.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
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