Forthcoming as chapter in Oxford Handbook of Well-Being and Public Policy, edited by Matthew D. Adler and Marc Fleurbaey (Oxford University Press, 2016).
44 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2015
Date Written: April 1, 2015
This paper presents a methodology for constructing an interpersonally comparable measure of individual well-being, which I dub the “extended preferences” approach. That term was first used by John Harsanyi, and the approach here builds upon (although in important respects also departs from) Harsanyi’s work. The key idea is that an ethical deliberator makes (or at least is capable of making) judgments concerning the well-being levels of histories and well-being differences between histories — where a history is a hybrid bundle consisting of possible attributes an individual might have, plus possible preferences (“tastes”) regarding such attributes. These judgments are represented by a well-being measure. If the deliberator adopts a preference-based conception of well-being, the functional form of that well-being measure can be partly inferred from the utility functions representing the tastes incorporated in histories. That is: the deliberator partly infers what the well-being numbers she assigns to histories must be, given her deference to individual tastes. The paper concludes by comparing the extended-preferences approach to competing methodologies for measuring well-being, in particular the equivalent-income concept.
Keywords: Preference, extended preference, well-being, utility, Harsanyi, interpersonal comparison, equivalent income
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