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Consequentialist Social Choice and Utilitarian Ethical Theory

  • Consequentialist Social Norms for Public Decisions,” in W.P. Heller, R.M. Starr and D.A. Starrett (eds.), Social Choice and Public Decision Making: Essays in Honor of Kenneth J. Arrow, Vol. I (Cambridge University Press, 1986), ch. 1, pp. 3–27;
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    Italian translation published in L. Sacconi (ed.) La decisione: Razionalità collettiva e strategie nell'amministrazione e nelle organizzazioni (Milano: Franco Angeli, 1986), ch. 2, pp. 60–88.

  • Consequentialist Demographic Norms and Parenting Rights,” Social Choice and Welfare 5 (1988), 127–145; also in W. Gaertner and P.K. Pattanaik (eds.) Distributive Justice and Inequality (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1988), pp. 39–57.
    This paper extends the author’s recent work on dynamically consistent consequentialist social norms for an unrestricted domain of decision trees with risk to trees in which the population is a variable consequence — i.e., endogenous. Given a form of ethical liberalism and ethical irrelevance of distant ancestors, classical utilitarianism is implied (provided also that a weak continuity condition is met). The “repugnant conclusion” that having many poor people may be desirable can be avoided by denying that individuals’ interests extend to the circumstances of their birth. But it is better avoided by recognizing that potential parents have legitimate interests concerning the sizes of their families

  • Consequentialist Decision Theory and Utilitarian Ethics,” in F. Farina, F. Hahn, and S. Vannucci (eds.) Ethics, Rationality, and Economic Behaviour (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), pp. 92–118.
    Suppose that a social behaviour norm specifies ethical decisions at all decision nodes of every finite decision tree whose terminal nodes have consequences in a given domain. Suppose too that behaviour is both consistent in subtrees and continuous as probabilities vary. Suppose that the social consequence domain consists of profiles of individual consequences defined broadly enough so that only individuals’ random consequences should matter, and not the structure of any decision tree. Finally, suppose that each individual has a “welfare behaviour norm” coinciding with the social norm for decision trees where only that individual’s random consequences are affected by any decision. Then, after suitable normalizations, the social norm must maximize the expected value of a sum of individual welfare functions over the feasible set of random consequences. Moreover, individuals who never exist can be accorded a zero welfare level provided that any decision is acceptable on their behalf. These arguments lead to a social objective whose structural form is that of classical utilitarianism, even though individual welfare should probably be interpreted very differently from classical utility PDF file of preprint

  • Well-Being from One Economist's Perspective,” discussion of T.M. Scanlon's Tanner Lecture on Human Values at the University of Michigan, October 1996 (later included as ch. 3 of his book What We Owe to Each Other).
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