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How Cardinal Utility Entered Economic Analysis during the Ordinal Revolution

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Abstract

The paper shows that cardinal utility entered economic analysis during the Ordinal Revolution initiated by Pareto and not, as many popular histories of utility theory assume, before it. Cardinal utility was the outcome of a discussion begun by Pareto about the capacity of ranking transitions among different combinations of goods. The discussion simmered away during the 1920s and early 1930s, underwent a decisive rise in temperature between 1934 and 1938, and continued with some final sparks until 1944. The paper illustrates the methodological and analytical issues and the measurement-theoretic problems, as well as the personal and institutional aspects that characterized this debate. Many eminent economists of the period contributed to it, with Samuelson in particular playing a pivotal role in defining and popularizing cardinal utility. Based on archival research in Samuelson’s papers at Duke University, the paper also addresses an issue of priority associated with the mathematical characterization of cardinal utility

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  • Moscati, Ivan, 2013. "How Cardinal Utility Entered Economic Analysis during the Ordinal Revolution," CESMEP Working Papers 201301, University of Turin.
  • Handle: RePEc:uto:cesmep:201301
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    File URL: http://www.cesmep.unito.it/WP/2013/WP_CESMEP_1_2013_Moscati.pdf
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    Cited by:

    1. Senderski, Marcin, 2014. "Ecumenical foundations? On the coexistence of Austrian and neoclassical views on utility," MPRA Paper 67024, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Pham, Michel Tuan & Faraji-Rad, Ali & Toubia, Olivier & Lee, Leonard, 2015. "Affect as an ordinal system of utility assessment," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 81-94.
    3. Arthur E. Attema & Han Bleichrodt & Yu Gao & Zhenxing Huang & Peter P. Wakker, 2016. "Measuring Discounting without Measuring Utility," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(6), pages 1476-1494, June.
    4. Georgios Gerasimou, 2017. "Preference intensity representation and revelation," Discussion Paper Series, Department of Economics 201716, Department of Economics, University of St. Andrews.

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