On the role of language in social choice theory

Synthese 163 (2):227 - 243 (2008)
Abstract
Axiomatic characterization results in social choice theory are usually compared either regarding the normative plausibility or regarding the logical strength of the axioms involved. Here, instead, we propose to compare axiomatizations according to the language used for expressing the axioms. In order to carry out such a comparison, we suggest a formalist approach to axiomatization results which uses a restricted formal logical language to express axioms. Axiomatic characterization results in social choice theory then turn into definability results of formal logic. The advantages of this approach include the possibility of non-axiomatizability results, a distinction between absolute and relative axiomatizations, and the possibility to ask how rich a language needs to be to express certain axioms. We argue for formal minimalism, i.e., for favoring axiomatizations in the weakest language possible.
Keywords Social choice theory  Logic  Judgment aggregation
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