Kenneth Arrow has made a remarkable variety of splendid discoveries and has provided illuminating treatments of an impressive array of topics. The one part of his work to date that most strikes a moral philosopher is his critique of utilitarianism. The critique brought to moral theory the full force of the ‘ordinalist revolution’ in economics. Classical utilitarians assessed policies by their contribution to the general happiness — to the sum of the degree of happiness of everyone involved. In this century, economics was reformulated in ways that left no room for talk of degrees of happiness. Talk of economic agents’ ‘utility’ was reinterpreted as talk of preference orderings. Arrow followed Pareto and Bergson in bringing this change to welfare economics, beginning with his famous Impossibility Theorem. Very little of utilitarianism, the theorem showed, could survive a searching ordinalistic critique.


Social Choice Preference Ordering Pareto Optimality Personal Welfare Moral Motivation 
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© George R. Feiwel 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allan F. Gibbard

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