Prioritarianism and the Measure of Utility

Journal of Political Philosophy 23 (1):1-22 (2015)
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I argue that prioritarianism cannot be assessed in abstraction from an account of the measure of utility. Rather, the soundness of this view crucially depends on what counts as a greater, lesser, or equal increase in a person’s utility. In particular, prioritarianism cannot accommodate a normatively compelling measure of utility that is captured by the axioms of John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern’s expected utility theory. Nor can it accommodate a plausible and elegant generalization of this theory that has been offered in response to challenges to von Neumann and Morgenstern. This is, I think, a theoretically interesting and unexpected source of difficulty for prioritarianism, which I explore in this article.
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