, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 295-317

Interpersonal utility in principles of social choice

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Abstract

This paper summarizes and rebuts the three standard objections made by social choice theorists against interpersonal utility. The first objection argues that interpersonal utility is measningless. I show that this objection either focuses on irrelevant kinds of meaning or else uses implausible criteria of meaningfulness. The second objection argues that interpersonal utility has no role to play in social choice theory. I show that on the contrary interpersonal utility is useful in formulating goals for social choice. The third objection argues that interpersonal utility in social choice theory can be replaced by clearer notions. I show that the replacements proposed are unsatisfactory in either interpersonal utility's descriptive or explanatory role. My conclusion is that interpersonal utility has a legitimate place in social choice theory.