Ethics Without Numbers

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The most rigorous framework for theorizing about the measurement and aggregation of value is the framework of social welfare functionals developed by Amartya Sen. In this framework, a social or overall betterness ordering is assigned to each possible profile of real-valued utility functions. Different possibilities for the measurability and interpersonal comparability of well-being are captured, in this framework, by invariance conditions, which require the same ordering to be assigned to profiles that are deemed informationally equivalent. But these invariance conditions are highly restrictive and it is not clear whether they really follow from the underlying measurability/comparability possibilities with which they are associated. The alternative framework developed in this paper cuts out the middleman of utilities, replacing them with the properties that utilities are supposed to represent. This allows us to define the measurability/comparability possibilities directly, without the use of any invariance condition, and to state social welfare functionals that violate the standard invariance conditions without requiring inadmissible information. This suggests that the invariance conditions cannot be justified in the standard way. But they do follow from a simple principle that can be motivated by some familiar considerations from the metaphysics of quantities. I conclude by considering the case for this principle.
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First archival date: 2021-08-28
Latest version: 4 (2021-12-23)
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