Title

Generalized Utilitarianism and Harsanyi's Impartial Observer Theorem

Publication Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

11-2010

Abstract

Harsanyi's impartial observer must consider two types of lotteries: imaginary identity lotteries ("accidents of birth") that she faces as herself and the real outcome lotteries ("life chances") to be faced by the individuals she imagines becoming. If we maintain a distinction between identity and outcome lotteries, then Harsanyi-like axioms yield generalized utilitarianism, and allow us to accommodate concerns about different individuals' risk attitudes and concerns about fairness. Requiring an impartial observer to be indifferent as to which individual should face similar risks restricts her social welfare function, but still allows her to accommodate fairness. Requiring an impartial observer to be indifferent between identity and outcome lotteries, however, forces her to ignore both fairness and different risk attitudes, and yields a new axiomatization of Harsanyi's utilitarianism.

Keywords

Generalized utilitarianism, impartial observer, social welfare function, fairness, ex ante egalitarianism

Discipline

Economic Theory

Research Areas

Economic Theory

Publication

Econometrica

Volume

78

Issue

6

First Page

1939

Last Page

1971

ISSN

0012-9682

Identifier

10.3982/ECTA6712

Publisher

Econometric Society: Econometrica

Additional URL

http://dx.doi.org/10.3982/ECTA6712

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS