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Measurement Theory and the Foundations of Utilitarianism

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  • John A. Weymark

    () (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)

Abstract

This article reconsiders the Harsanyi--Sen debate concerning whether Harsanyi is justified in interpreting his Aggregation and Impartial Observer Theorems as providing axiomatizations of utilitarianism. Sen's criticism and its formalization by Weymark are based on the claim that von Neumann--Morgenstern utility theory is ordinal, whereas Harsanyi's utilitarian conclusions require cardinal utility. Proposals for overcoming Sen's objection that appeal to formal measurement theory are considered. It is argued that one of these proposals due to Broome and Risse rightly points to a feature of expected utility theory that was ignored by Sen and Weymark, but that this proposal does not provide a normatively compelling justification for cardinal utility. The other proposal due to Broome is shown to make use of a strength of preference relation in addition to the axioms of expected utility theory.

Suggested Citation

  • John A. Weymark, 2005. "Measurement Theory and the Foundations of Utilitarianism," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0507, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:van:wpaper:0507
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    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. 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.
    3. Marcus Fleming, 1952. "A Cardinal Concept of Welfare," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 66(3), pages 366-384.
    4. 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.
    5. Mandler, Michael, 2001. "Dilemmas in Economic Theory: Persisting Foundational Problems of Microeconomics," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195145755.
    6. Mongin, P & d'Aspremont, C, 1996. "Utility Theory and Ethics," Papers 9632, Paris X - Nanterre, U.F.R. de Sc. Ec. Gest. Maths Infor..
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. Allais Maurice, 1990. "Cardinal Utility," Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, De Gruyter, vol. 1(2), pages 1-38, June.
    12. Marc Fleurbaey & Maurice Salles & John Weymark, 2008. "Justice, Political Liberalism and Utilitarianism," Post-Print hal-00246415, HAL.
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    Citations

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    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. Nascimento, Leandro, 2012. "The ex-ante aggregation of opinions under uncertainty," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 7(3), September.
    4. 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.
    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; measurement theory; utilitarianism; Harsanyi; von Neumann; Morgenstern;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D71 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Social Choice; Clubs; Committees; Associations
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty

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