Interpersonal Utility and Pragmatic Virtues

Abstract

It is a commonplace that, in everyday life, we compare different people’s preferences with respect to content and strength. We typically make such comparisons with relatively little difficulty. Furthermore, we often do not find inter-personal comparisons of preferences more difficult than intra-personal comparisons, that is,comparisons involving our own preferences. This contrasts with the difficulties that comparing preferences across individuals pose at the theoretical level. Since preferences are typically represented numerically through a utility function, the problem is known as the problem of interpersonal utility comparisons (IUCs for short). In this paper, I examine the most common solution to the problem of IUCs. According to it, we can assume that preferences are interpersonally comparable on pragmatic grounds (i.e. explanatory power, parsimony and simplicity) I argue that, contrary to our intuitions, the assumption of interpersonal comparability is not pragmatically advantageous. I conclude that this strategy to solve the problem of IUCs fails

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