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Interpersonal comparisons of utility: The epistemological problem.

Rossi, Mauro (2009) Interpersonal comparisons of utility: The epistemological problem. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom).

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Abstract

My doctorate thesis investigates a particularly controversial issue in both philosophy of economics and philosophy of mind, namely, the problem of interpersonal utility comparisons (IUCs henceforth). As I take utility to be a numerical representation of the intensity of individual preferences, IUCs are judgments about how different people's preferences compare in terms of strength. As factual judgments, IUCs appear to be either underdetermined by the empirical evidence or indeterminate. This casts doubt on whether or not we can have (scientific) knowledge of, or, at least, (scientifically) justified beliefs about, how different people's preferences compare in terms of strength. In general, IUCs can be justified if the assumption of interpersonal similarity, in one of its forms, can be vindicated. I consider two strategies, which attempt to vindicate this assumption by means of, respectively, an inference to the best explanation type of argument and a nativist argument. I argue that both strategies fail. These results suggest that preferences may be interpersonally incomparable with respect to the dimension of strength. I consider four 'possibility' arguments addressing this challenge. I argue that, although some of them may solve the conceptual problem concerning the interpersonal comparability of preference strengths, they all fail to solve the epistemological problem of IUCs. Nevertheless, I argue that a 'modest' transcendental argument shows that IUCs can, at least, be justified, provided that we embrace a coherentist view about the structure of epistemic justification.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Philosophy, Epistemology
Sets: Collections > ProQuest Etheses
Departments > Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/2740

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