Social Choice and Welfare

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 299–316 | Cite as

To be or not to be involved: a questionnaire-experimental view on Harsanyi’s utilitarian ethics

  • Yoram Amiel
  • Frank A. Cowell
  • Wulf GaertnerEmail author
Original Paper


According to standard theory founded on Harsanyi (J Polit Econ 61:434–435, 1953; 63:309–321, 1955) a social welfare function can be appropriately based on the individual’s approach to choice under uncertainty. We investigate how people really do rank distributions in terms of welfare. According to Harsanyi, the evaluation can be done from the standpoint of an uninvolved external judge, a public official, for example, or by a person who knows that she holds one of the positions in society, with an equal chance for any of the available positions. Are these two structures to be viewed differently? We use a questionnaire experiment to focus on the two different interpretations of the Harsanyi approach. There are important, systematic differences that transcend the cultural background of respondents.


Utility Function Social Welfare Function Questionnaire Experiment Good Situation Interpersonal Comparison 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ruppin Academic CenterEmek HeferIsrael
  2. 2.London School of EconomicsLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsUniversity of OsnabrückOsnabrückGermany

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