The Case for a Multiple-Utility Conception

Economics and Philosophy, 2, 1986, 159-183.

25 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2013

See all articles by Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni

The George Washington University

Date Written: 1986


In recent decades, neoclassical economists have made heroic efforts to accommodate within the confines of the concept of rational utility maximization the fact that individual behavior is significantly affected by moral considerations. This article argues the merits of using an alternative approach: recognizing that individuals pursue at least two irreducible sources of value or “utility”, pleasure and morality. The possibility that some additional utilities may have to be recognized is explored. This raises the concern that conceptual anarchy will break out, which in turn will force a search for a common denominator, and thus a return to one overarching utility. Arguments are presented to show that this concern is unfounded. The main focus of the article is a criticism of the monoutility conception and a brief for separating the sense of discharging one’s moral obligations from all satisfactions. The article first deals with general conceptual points, and then cites both everyday observations and empirical evidence in support of this position.

Suggested Citation

Etzioni, Amitai, The Case for a Multiple-Utility Conception (1986). Economics and Philosophy, 2, 1986, 159-183. . Available at SSRN:

Amitai Etzioni (Contact Author)

The George Washington University ( email )

2100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Suite 4058
Washington, DC 20037
United States

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