Aggregation Without Interpersonal Comparisons of Well-Being

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Abstract

This paper is about the role of interpersonal comparisons in Harsanyi’s aggregation theorem. Harsanyi interpreted his theorem to show that a broadly utilitarian theory of distribution must be true even if there are no interpersonal comparisons of well-being. How is this possible? The orthodox view is that it is not. Some argue that the interpersonal comparability of well-being is hidden in Harsanyi’s premises. Others argue that it is a surprising conclusion of Harsanyi’s theorem, which is not presupposed by any one of the premises. I argue instead that Harsanyi was right: his theorem and its weighted-utilitarian conclusion do not require interpersonal comparisons of well-being. The key to making sense of this possibility is to treat Harsanyi’s weights as dimensional constants rather than dimensionless numbers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-41
Number of pages24
JournalPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research
Volume105
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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