Social choice

Bossert, Cato, and Kamaga on sufficientarianism (open-access at Journal of Political Philosophy)

J pol philBy Mark D. White

Forthcoming (and open-access) in the Journal of Political Philosophy from Walter Bossert (University of Montreal), Susumu Cato (University of Tokyo), and Kohei Kamaga (Sophia University), "Critical-Level Sufficientarianism" supplements the utilitarian basis of normative policy-oriented economics with the requirement that no one ends up with too little:

In this article, we employ an axiological approach to identify a class of sufficientarian principles. Our starting point is the notion of absolute priority, a requirement that we consider to be at the very core of sufficientarian ideas. Absolute priority postulates that attention is to be focused on those whose well-being is below the threshold, and the utilities of those above the threshold only matter as a tie-breaker if the criterion to be applied below the threshold fails to be decisive. The feature that is novel to our approach is that we combine this fundamental sufficientarian principle with axioms that have a distinctly utilitarian flavor. This allows us to develop a sufficientarian theory that is based on utilitarian principles. Our most important observation is that our theory, which we refer to as critical-level sufficientarianism, necessarily follows as a consequence of adding the absolute-priority requirement to utilitarian axioms.


Nebel on Harsanyi's aggregation theorem

HarsanyiBy Mark D. White

Forthcoming in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, "Aggregation without Interpersonal Comparisons of Well-Being" by Jacob M. Nebel (University of Southern California) weighs in on a timeless debate in social choice theory:

This paper is about the role of interpersonal comparisons in Harsanyi’s aggregation theorem. Harsanyi interpreted his theorem to show that a broadly utilitarian theory of distribution must be true even if there are no interpersonal comparisons of well-being. How is this possible? The orthodox view is that it is not. Some argue that the interpersonal comparability of well-being is hidden in Harsanyi’s premises. Others argue that it is a surprising conclusion of Harsanyi’s theorem, which is not presupposed by any one of the premises. I argue instead that Harsanyi was right: his theorem and its weighted-utilitarian conclusion do not require interpersonal comparisons of well-being. The key to making sense of this possibility is to treat Harsanyi’s weights as dimensional constants rather than dimensionless numbers.

Aside from Nebel's own novel contribution, this paper offers a fine overview of Harsanyi's arguments and subsequent commentary on them. (Earlier this year, Nebel also published "Utils and Shmutils," a review of Matthew Adler's Measuring Social Welfare: An Introduction, in Ethics.)