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A reconsideration of the Harsanyi–Sen debate on utilitarianism

In Jon Elster & John E. Roemer (eds.), Interpersonal Comparisons of Well-Being. Cambridge University Press. pp. 255 (1991)

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  1. The Veil of Ignorance Violates Priority*: Juan D. Moreno-Ternero and John E. Roemer.Juan D. Moreno-Ternero - 2008 - Economics and Philosophy 24 (2):233-257.
    The veil of ignorance has been used often as a tool for recommending what justice requires with respect to the distribution of wealth. We complete Harsanyi's model of the veil of ignorance by appending information permitting objective comparisons among persons. In order to do so, we introduce the concept of objective empathy. We show that the veil-of-ignorance conception of John Harsanyi, so completed, and Ronald Dworkin's, when modelled formally, recommend wealth allocations in conflict with the prominently espoused view that priority (...)
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  • Topics in Population Ethics.Teruji Thomas - 2016 - Dissertation, University of Oxford
    This thesis consists of several independent papers in population ethics. I begin in Chapter 1 by critiquing some well-known 'impossibility theorems', which purport to show there can be no intuitively satisfactory population axiology. I identify axiological vagueness as a promising way to escape or at least mitigate the effects of these theorems. In particular, in Chapter 2, I argue that certain of the impossibility theorems have little more dialectical force than sorites arguments do. From these negative arguments I move to (...)
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  • Fully Bayesian Aggregation.Franz Dietrich - forthcoming - Journal of Economic Theory.
    Can a group be an orthodox rational agent? This requires the group's aggregate preferences to follow expected utility (static rationality) and to evolve by Bayesian updating (dynamic rationality). Group rationality is possible, but the only preference aggregation rules which achieve it (and are minimally Paretian and continuous) are the linear-geometric rules, which combine individual values linearly and combine individual beliefs geometrically. Linear-geometric preference aggregation contrasts with classic linear-linear preference aggregation, which combines both values and beliefs linearly, but achieves only static (...)
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  • Expected Value Under Normative Uncertainty.Franz Dietrich & Brian Jabarian - manuscript
    Maximising expected value is the classic doctrine in choice theory under empirical uncertainty, and a prominent proposal in the emerging philosophical literature on normative uncertainty, i.e., uncertainty about values. But how should Expectationalism be stated in general, when we can face both uncertainties simultaneously, as is common in life? Surprisingly, different possibilities arise, ranging from Ex-Ante to Ex-Post Expectationalism, with several hybrid versions. Expectationalism thus faces the classic dilemma between ex-ante and ex-post approaches. Different expectational theories reach diverging evaluations, use (...)
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  • Philippe Mongin.Jean Baccelli & Marcus Pivato - 2021 - Theory and Decision 90 (1):1-9.
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  • Prioritarianism: A Response to Critics.Matthew D. Adler & Nils Holtug - 2019 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 18 (2):101-144.
    Prioritarianism is a moral view that ranks outcomes according to the sum of a strictly increasing and strictly concave transformation of individual well-being. Prioritarianism is ‘welfarist’ (namel...
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  • Contractarian Ethics and Harsanyi’s Two Justifications of Utilitarianism.Michael Moehler - 2013 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 12 (1):24-47.
    Harsanyi defends utilitarianism by means of an axiomatic proof and by what he calls the 'equiprobability model'. Both justifications of utilitarianism aim to show that utilitarian ethics can be derived from Bayesian rationality and some weak moral constraints on the reasoning of rational agents. I argue that, from the perspective of Bayesian agents, one of these constraints, the impersonality constraint, is not weak at all if its meaning is made precise, and that generally, it even contradicts individual rational agency. Without (...)
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  • The Impartial Observer Theorem of Social Ethics.Philippe Mongin - 2001 - Economics and Philosophy 17 (2):147-179.
    Following a long-standing philosophical tradition, impartiality is a distinctive and determining feature of moral judgments, especially in matters of distributive justice. This broad ethical tradition was revived in welfare economics by Vickrey, and above all, Harsanyi, under the form of the so-called Impartial Observer Theorem. The paper offers an analytical reconstruction of this argument and a step-wise philosophical critique of its premisses. It eventually provides a new formal version of the theorem based on subjective probability.
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  • On the Problematic Link Between Fundamental Ethics and Economic Policy Recommendations.Olof Johansson-Stenman - 1998 - Journal of Economic Methodology 5 (2):263-297.
    This paper provides a systematic survey of major simplifying assumptions that economists make, and often have to make, in order to obtain a useful theory for policy recommendations in practice. The aim is to consider the whole chain of assumptions with an emphasis on such simplifications that economists sometimes tend to ignore (at worst), or at best often tend not to take very seriously. The paper concludes that the link from fundamental ethics to economic policy recommendations is often very fragile, (...)
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  • Rawls’s Self-Defeat: A Formal Analysis.Hun Chung - 2020 - Erkenntnis 85 (5):1169-1197.
    One of John Rawls’s major aims, when he wrote A Theory of Justice, was to present a superior alternative to utilitarianism. Rawls’s worry was that utilitarianism may fail to protect the fundamental rights and liberties of persons in its attempt to maximize total social welfare. Rawls’s main argument against utilitarianism was that, for such reasons, the representative parties in the original position will not choose utilitarianism, but will rather choose his justice as fairness, which he believed would securely protect the (...)
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  • Extended Preferences and Interpersonal Comparisons of Well‐Being.Hilary Greaves & Harvey Lederman - 2016 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research:636-667.
    An important objection to preference-satisfaction theories of well-being is that these theories cannot make sense of interpersonal comparisons of well-being. A tradition dating back to Harsanyi () attempts to respond to this objection by appeal to so-called extended preferences: very roughly, preferences over situations whose description includes agents’ preferences. This paper examines the prospects for defending the preference-satisfaction theory via this extended preferences program. We argue that making conceptual sense of extended preferences is less problematic than others have supposed, but (...)
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  • One-by-One: Moral Theory for Separate Persons.Bastian Steuwer - 2020 - Dissertation, London School of Economics
    You and I lead different lives. While we share a society and a world, our existence is separate from one another. You and I matter individually, by ourselves. My dissertation is about this simple thought. I argue that this simple insight, the separateness of persons, tells us something fundamental about morality. My dissertation seeks to answer how the separateness of persons matters. I develop a precise view of the demands of the separateness of persons. The separateness of persons imposes both (...)
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  • Aggregating Causal Judgments.Richard Bradley, Franz Dietrich & Christian List - 2014 - Philosophy of Science 81 (4):491-515.
    Decision-making typically requires judgments about causal relations: we need to know the causal effects of our actions and the causal relevance of various environmental factors. We investigate how several individuals' causal judgments can be aggregated into collective causal judgments. First, we consider the aggregation of causal judgments via the aggregation of probabilistic judgments, and identify the limitations of this approach. We then explore the possibility of aggregating causal judgments independently of probabilistic ones. Formally, we introduce the problem of causal-network aggregation. (...)
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  • Egalitarianism Against the Veil of Ignorance.John E. Roemer - 2002 - Journal of Philosophy 99 (4):167-184.
  • Mentalism Versus Behaviourism in Economics: A Philosophy-of-Science Perspective.Franz Dietrich & Christian List - 2016 - Economics and Philosophy 32 (2):249-281.
    Behaviourism is the view that preferences, beliefs, and other mental states in social-scientific theories are nothing but constructs re-describing people's behaviour. Mentalism is the view that they capture real phenomena, on a par with the unobservables in science, such as electrons and electromagnetic fields. While behaviourism has gone out of fashion in psychology, it remains influential in economics, especially in ‘revealed preference’ theory. We defend mentalism in economics, construed as a positive science, and show that it fits best scientific practice. (...)
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  • The Priority View.David McCarthy - 2017 - Economics and Philosophy 33 (2):215–57.
    According to the priority view, or prioritarianism, it matters more to benefit people the worse off they are. But how exactly should the priority view be defined? This article argues for a highly general characterization which essentially involves risk, but makes no use of evaluative measurements or the expected utility axioms. A representation theorem is provided, and when further assumptions are added, common accounts of the priority view are recovered. A defense of the key idea behind the priority view, the (...)
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  • Extended Preferences and Interpersonal Comparisons: A New Account.Matthew D. Adler - 2014 - Economics and Philosophy 30 (2):123-162.
  • Social Justice, Genomic Justice and the Veil of Ignorance: Harsanyi Meets Mendel.Samir Okasha - 2012 - Economics and Philosophy 28 (1):43-71.
    John Harsanyi and John Rawls both used the veil of ignorance thought experiment to study the problem of choosing between alternative social arrangements. With his ‘impartial observer theorem’, Harsanyi tried to show that the veil of ignorance argument leads inevitably to utilitarianism, an argument criticized by Sen, Weymark and others. A quite different use of the veil-of-ignorance concept is found in evolutionary biology. In the cell-division process called meiosis, in which sexually reproducing organisms produce gametes, the chromosome number is halved; (...)
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  • The Ethics of Making Risky Decisions for Others.Luc Bovens - 2019 - In Mark D. White (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Ethics and Economics. Oxford University Press. pp. 446-473.
    Utilitarianism, it has been said, is not sensitive to the distribution of welfare. In making risky decisions for others there are multiple sensitivities at work. I present examples of risky decision-making involving drug allocations, charitable giving, breast-cancer screening and C-sections. In each of these examples there is a different sensitivity at work that pulls away from the utilitarian prescription. Instances of saving fewer people at a greater risk to many is more complex because there are two distributional sensitivities at work (...)
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  • Concerns for the Poorly Off in Ordering Risky Prospects.Luc Bovens - 2015 - Economics and Philosophy 31 (3):397-429.
    The Distribution View provides a model that integrates four distributional concerns in the evaluation of risky prospects. Starting from these concerns, we can generate an ordering over a set of risky prospects, or, starting from an ordering, we can extract a characterization of the underlying distributional concerns. Separability of States and/or Persons for multiple-person risky prospects, for single-person risky prospects and for multiple-person certain prospects are discussed within the model. The Distribution View sheds light on public health policies and provides (...)
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  • A Reconsideration of the Harsanyi–Sen–Weymark Debate on Utilitarianism.Hilary Greaves - 2016 - Utilitas:1-39.
    Harsanyi claimed that his Aggregation and Impartial Observer Theorems provide a justification for utilitarianism. This claim has been strongly resisted, notably by Sen and Weymark, who argue that while Harsanyi has perhaps shown that overall good is a linear sum of individuals’ von Neumann-Morgenstern utilities, he has done nothing to establish any con- nection between the notion of von Neumann-Morgenstern utility and that of well-being, and hence that utilitarianism does not follow. The present article defends Harsanyi against the Sen-Weymark cri- (...)
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  • Probability in Ethics.David McCarthy - 2016 - In Alan Hájek & Christopher Hitchcock (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Probability. Oxford University Press. pp. 705–737.
    The article is a plea for ethicists to regard probability as one of their most important concerns. It outlines a series of topics of central importance in ethical theory in which probability is implicated, often in a surprisingly deep way, and lists a number of open problems. Topics covered include: interpretations of probability in ethical contexts; the evaluative and normative significance of risk or uncertainty; uses and abuses of expected utility theory; veils of ignorance; Harsanyi’s aggregation theorem; population size problems; (...)
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  • Measurement-Theoretic Foundations of Preference Aggregation Logic for Weighted Utilitarianism.Satoru Suzuki - unknown
    SOCREAL 2013 : 3rd International Workshop on Philosophy and Ethics of Social Reality 2013. Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan, 25-27 October 2013. Session 3 : Logic, Norms, and Preferences.
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  • Social Preference Under Twofold Uncertainty.Philippe Mongin & Marcus Pivato - forthcoming - Economic Theory.
    We investigate the conflict between the ex ante and ex post criteria of social welfare in a new framework of individual and social decisions, which distinguishes between two sources of uncertainty, here interpreted as an objective and a subjective source respectively. This framework makes it possible to endow the individuals and society not only with ex ante and ex post preferences, as is usually done, but also with interim preferences of two kinds, and correspondingly, to introduce interim forms of the (...)
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  • Utilitarianism and Prioritarianism I.David McCarthy - 2006 - Economics and Philosophy 22 (3):335-363.
    Utilitarianism and prioritarianism make a strong assumption about the uniqueness of measures of how good things are for people, or for short, individual goodness measures. But it is far from obvious that the presupposition is correct. The usual response to this problem assumes that individual goodness measures are determined independently of our discourse about distributive theories. This article suggests reversing this response. What determines the set of individual goodness measures just is the body of platitudes we accept about distributive theories. (...)
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  • How Far Can You Go With Quietism?Gerald Lang - 2010 - Problema 4:3-37.
    Ronald Dworkin’s Justice for Hedgehogs renews and amplifies his earlier attacks on metaethics. This article reviews the main lineaments of Dworkin’s anti-metaethical arguments and discusses, in detail, a number of issues which arise from them. First, it is suggested that Dworkin’s appraisal of what is doing most of the explanatory work in his account is largely askew. Second, it is claimed that Dworkin’s allegation that expressivism is self-defeating is wide of the mark, but that another charge in the same vicinity (...)
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  • A Farewell to IIA.Aki Lehtinen - unknown
    Arrow's Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives (IIA) has been under criticism for decades for not taking account of preference intensities. Computer-simulation results by Aki Lehtinen concerning strategic voting under various voting rules show that this intensity argument does not need to rest on mere intuition. Voters may express intensities by voting strategically, and that this has beneficial aggregate-level consequences: utilitarian efficiency is higher if voters engage in strategic behaviour than if they always vote sincerely. Strategic voting is thus unambiguously beneficial under (...)
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  • Assessing Risky Social Situations.Marc Fleurbaey - unknown
    This paper re-examines the welfare economics of risk. It singles out a class of criteria, the “expected equally-distributed equivalent”, as the unique class which avoids serious drawbacks of existing approaches. Such criteria behave like ex-post criteria when the final statistical distribution of wellbeing is known ex ante, and like ex-ante criteria when risk generates no inequality. The paper also provides a new result on the tension between inequality aversion and respect of individual ex ante preferences, in the vein of Harsanyi’s (...)
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  • The Failure of Expected-Utility Theory as a Theory of Reason.Jean Hampton - 1994 - Economics and Philosophy 10 (2):195.
    Expected-utility theory has been a popular and influential theory in philosophy, law, and the social sciences. While its original developers, von Neumann and Morgenstern, presented it as a purely predictive theory useful to the practitioners of economic science, many subsequent theorists, particularly those outside of economics, have come to endorse EU theory as providing us with a representation of reason. But precisely in what sense does EU theory portray reason? And does it do so successfully? There are two strikingly different (...)
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  • Economics and Economic Justice.Marc Fleurbaey - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Philosophy of Economics.Daniel M. Hausman - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    This is a comprehensive anthology of works concerning the nature of economics as a science, including classic texts and essays exploring specific branches and schools of economics. Apart from the classics, most of the selections in the third edition are new, as are the introduction and bibliography. No other anthology spans the whole field and offers a comprehensive introduction to questions about economic methodology.
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