Perception-theoretic Foundations of Weighted Utilitarianism

Rossella Argenziano*, Itzhak Gilboa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We provide a microfoundation for a weighted utilitarian social welfare function that reflects common moral intuitions about interpersonal comparisons of utilities. If utility is only ordinal in the usual microeconomic sense, interpersonal comparisons are meaningless. Nonetheless, economics often adopt utilitarian welfare functions, assuming that comparable utility functions can be calibrated, using information beyond consumer choice data. We show that consumer choice data alone are sufficient. As suggested by Edgeworth (1881), just noticeable differences (JNDs) provide a common unit of measure for interpersonal comparisons of utility differences. We prove that a simple monotonicity axiom implies a weighted utilitarian aggregation of preferences, with weights proportional to individual JNDs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberecoj.12622
Pages (from-to)1511-1528
Number of pages18
JournalEconomic Journal
Issue number620
StatePublished - 2019


FundersFunder number
Foerder Foundation
Seventh Framework Programme269754
Iowa Science Foundation704/15
European Research Council
Israel Science Foundation


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