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The Historical Perspective of the Problem of Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility

Drakopoulos, Stavros A. (1989): The Historical Perspective of the Problem of Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility. Published in: Journal of Economic Studies , Vol. 16, No. 4 (1989): pp. 35-51.

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The starting-point of the article is the inconsistency between the established practice of acceptance in many cases, of economic policy (i.e. progressive taxation, national insurance policies) and the theoretical rejection of interpersonal comparisons of utility who see it as an unscientific value judgement. The inconsistency is explained by identifying three groups of theorists: (1) those who thought of comparability as a value judgement and unacceptable for economic policy considerations (positivists), (2) those who agreed with the positivists, on the normative nature of comparability but accepted it as a basis for economic policy, and (3) those who thought of it as part of a scientific economics. The implication was that, despite the dominance of positivist methodology in other sub-fields, the historical experience points to the difficulty of applying positivist methodology to the issue of comparability. If the inconsistency is thus due to the inappropriateness of the positivist approach, the only possible solution is the explicit abandonment of this approach at least in matters related to the collective aspects of economics.

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