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Are interpersonal comparisons of utility indeterminate?

List, Christian (2003) Are interpersonal comparisons of utility indeterminate? Erkenntnis, 58 (2). pp. 229-260. ISSN 1572-8420

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Abstract

On the orthodox view in economics, interpersonal comparisons of utility are not empirically meaningful, and "hence" impossible. To reassess this view, this paper draws on the parallels between the problem of interpersonal comparisons of utility and the problem of translation of linguistic meaning, as explored by Quine. I discuss several cases of what the empirical evidence for interpersonal comparisons of utility might be and show that, even on the strongest of these, interpersonal comparisons are empirically underdetermined and, if we also deny any appropriate truth of the matter, indeterminate. However, the underdetermination can be broken non-arbitrarily (though not purely empirically) if (i) we assign normative significance to certain states of affairs or (ii) we posit a fixed connection between certain empirically observable proxies and utility. I conclude that, even if interpersonal comparisons are not empirically meaningful, they are not in principle impossible.

Item Type: Article
Official URL: http://springerlink.metapress.com/openurl.asp?genr...
Additional Information: Published 2003 © Springer Netherlands. The original publication is available at www.springerlink.com. LSE has developed LSE Research Online so that users may access research output of the School. Copyright and Moral Rights for the papers on this site are retained by the individual authors and/or other copyright owners. Users may download and/or print one copy of any article(s) in LSE Research Online to facilitate their private study or for non-commercial research. You may not engage in further distribution of the material or use it for any profit-making activities or any commercial gain. You may freely distribute the URL (<http://eprints.lse.ac.uk>) of the LSE Research Online website.
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Rights: http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/usingTheLibrary/academicSupport/OA/depositYourResearch.aspx
Date Deposited: 31 Mar 2006
URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/701/

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