IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/ecm/nasm04/415.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Measurement Theory and the Foundations of Utilitarianism

Author

Listed:
  • John a. Weymark

Abstract

Harsanyi used expected utility theory to provide two axiomatizations of weighted utilitarian rules. Sen (and later, Weymark) has argued that Harsanyi has not, in fact, axiomatized utilitarianism because he has misapplied expected utility theory. Specifically, Sen and Weymark have argued that von Neumann-Morgenstern expected utility theory is an ordinal theory and, therefore, any increasing transform of a von Neumann-Morgenstern utility function is a satisfactory representation of a preference relation over lotteries satisfying the expected utility axioms. However, Harsanyi's version of utilitarianism requires a cardinal theory of utility in which only von Neumann-Morgenstern utility functions are acceptable representations of preferences. Broome has argued that von Neumann-Morgenstern expected utility theory is cardinal in the relevant sense needed to support Harsanyi's utilitarian conclusions. His basic point is that a preference binary relation is not a complete description of preferences in the von Neumann-Morgenstern theory. Rather, the preference relation needs to be supplemented by a binary operation, and it is this operation that makes the theory cardinal. Broome does not provide a formal argument in support of this conclusion. In this article, measurement theory is used to critically evaluate Broome's claims. It is shown that the criticisms of Harsanyi's theory by Sen and Weymark can be extended to the more complete description of expected utility theory that is obtained by using the mixture operators that appear in von Neumann and Morgenstern's original description of expected utility theory in addition to a preference relation

Suggested Citation

  • John a. Weymark, 2004. "Measurement Theory and the Foundations of Utilitarianism," Econometric Society 2004 North American Summer Meetings 415, Econometric Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecm:nasm04:415
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://repec.org/esNASM04/up.25774.1075494883.pdf
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Mongin, P & d'Aspremont, C, 1996. "Utility Theory and Ethics," Papers 9632, Paris X - Nanterre, U.F.R. de Sc. Ec. Gest. Maths Infor..
    4. Peter J. Hammond & Claude d'Aspremont, 2001. "An interview with John C. Harsanyi," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 18(3), pages 389-401.
    5. Mandler, Michael, 2001. "Dilemmas in Economic Theory: Persisting Foundational Problems of Microeconomics," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195145755.
    6. Marcus Fleming, 1952. "A Cardinal Concept of Welfare," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 66(3), pages 366-384.
    7. Milton Friedman & L. J. Savage, 1952. "The Expected-Utility Hypothesis and the Measurability of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 60, pages 463-463.
    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. Milton Friedman & L. J. Savage, 1948. "The Utility Analysis of Choices Involving Risk," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56, pages 279-279.
    10. Allais Maurice, 1990. "Cardinal Utility," Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, De Gruyter, vol. 1(2), pages 1-38, June.
    11. Marc Fleurbaey & Maurice Salles & John Weymark, 2008. "Justice, Political Liberalism and Utilitarianism," Post-Print hal-00246415, HAL.
    12. 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.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Fleurbaey, Marc, 2009. "Two variants of Harsanyi's aggregation theorem," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 105(3), pages 300-302, December.
    2. Thibault Gajdos & Feriel Kandil, 2008. "The ignorant observer," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 31(2), pages 193-232, August.
    3. Yaron Azrieli & Semin Kim, 2014. "Pareto Efficiency And Weighted Majority Rules," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 55, pages 1067-1088, November.
    4. Nascimento, Leandro, 2012. "The ex-ante aggregation of opinions under uncertainty," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 7(3), September.
    5. Courard-Hauri David & Lauer Stephen A., 2012. "Taking "All Men Are Created Equal" Seriously: Toward a Metric for the Intergroup Comparison of Utility Functions Through Life Values," Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, De Gruyter, vol. 3(3), pages 1-30, August.
    6. John A Weymark, 2012. "Social Welfare Functions," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers vuecon-sub-13-00018, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    expected utility; utilitarianism; von Neumann-Morgenstern; Harsanyi;

    JEL classification:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ecm:nasm04:415. 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: (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/essssea.html .

    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 CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc 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 RePEc Author Service 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.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.