Journal of Philosophical Logic

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 595–618 | Cite as

First-Order Logic Formalisation of Impossibility Theorems in Preference Aggregation

  • Umberto GrandiEmail author
  • Ulle Endriss
Open Access


In preference aggregation a set of individuals express preferences over a set of alternatives, and these preferences have to be aggregated into a collective preference. When preferences are represented as orders, aggregation procedures are called social welfare functions. Classical results in social choice theory state that it is impossible to aggregate the preferences of a set of individuals under different natural sets of axiomatic conditions. We define a first-order language for social welfare functions and we give a complete axiomatisation for this class, without having the number of individuals or alternatives specified in the language. We are able to express classical axiomatic requirements in our first-order language, giving formal axioms for three classical theorems of preference aggregation by Arrow, by Sen, and by Kirman and Sondermann. We explore to what extent such theorems can be formally derived from our axiomatisations, obtaining positive results for Sen’s Theorem and the Kirman-Sondermann Theorem. For the case of Arrow’s Theorem, which does not apply in the case of infinite societies, we have to resort to fixing the number of individuals with an additional axiom. In the long run, we hope that our approach to formalisation can serve as the basis for a fully automated proof of classical and new theorems in social choice theory.


Social choice theory First-order logic Axiomatisability Preference aggregation Automated reasoning 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Logic, Language and ComputationUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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