Extended Preferences and Interpersonal Comparisons of Well‐being

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 96 (3):636-667 (2016)
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An important objection to preference-satisfaction theories of well-being is that these theories cannot make sense of interpersonal comparisons of well-being. A tradition dating back to Harsanyi () attempts to respond to this objection by appeal to so-called extended preferences: very roughly, preferences over situations whose description includes agents’ preferences. This paper examines the prospects for defending the preference-satisfaction theory via this extended preferences program. We argue that making conceptual sense of extended preferences is less problematic than others have supposed, but that even so extended preferences do not provide a promising way for the preference satisfaction theorist to make interpersonal well-being comparisons. Our main objection takes the form of a trilemma: depending on how the theory based on extended preferences is developed, either the result will be inconsistent with ordinary preference-satisfaction theory, or it will fail to recover sufficiently rich interpersonal well-being comparisons, or it will take on a number of other arguably odd and undesirable commitments.

Author Profiles

Harvey Lederman
University of Texas at Austin
Hilary Greaves
Oxford University


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