The Case of Many Persons

James Griffin

in Well-Being

Published in print December 1988 | ISBN: 9780198248439
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597558 | DOI:

Series: Clarendon Paperbacks

 The Case of Many Persons

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Can we make interpersonal comparisons of well‐being? The nature of the problem of interpersonal comparison changes as the account of well‐being that one adopts changes, and our question is, are interpersonal comparisons of well‐being possible on the best account of well‐being, viz. the informed‐desire account with a high standard for ‘informed’. After discussing John Harsanyi's idea of an extended utility function and the idea of a deep monistic utility function, the chapter concludes that, as the informed‐desire account gives us something approaching an objective list of elements of well‐being, the terms in which we speak quantitatively about one person's well‐being are not relative to other things that this individual wants but relative to quantitative assessment of other people's well‐being. There is, therefore, no gap between assessments of different persons’ well‐being that needs bridging. The chapter concludes with discussions of intra‐personal, inter‐temporal comparisons and of comparisons on a large social scale.

Keywords: John Harsanyi; inter‐personal comparison; intra‐personal comparisons; well‐being

Chapter.  7493 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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