David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Erkenntnis 58 (2):229 - 260 (2003)
On the orthodox view in economics, interpersonal comparisons of utilityare not empirically meaningful, and ``hence'' impossible. To reassess this view, this paper draws onthe parallels between the problem of interpersonal comparisons of utility and the problem of translation of linguisticmeaning, as explored by Quine. I discuss several cases of what the empirical evidence for interpersonal comparisonsof utility might be and show that, even on the strongest of these, interpersonal comparisons are empiricallyunderdetermined and, if we also deny any appropriate truth of the matter, indeterminate. However, the underdeterminationcan be broken non-arbitrarily (though not purely empirically) if (i) we assign normative significance to certainstates of affairs or (ii) we posit a fixed connection between certain empirically observable proxies and utility.I conclude that, even if interpersonal comparisons are not empirically meaningful, they are not in principle impossible.
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Citations of this work BETA
Krister Bykvist (2010). Can Unstable Preferences Provide a Stable Standard of Well-Being? Economics and Philosophy 26 (1):1-26.
Campbell Brown (2007). Prioritarianism for Variable Populations. Philosophical Studies 134 (3):325 - 361.
R. Duncan Luce (2010). Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility for 2 of 3 Types of People. Theory and Decision 68 (1-2):5-24.
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