The Measurement of Social Welfare

By Jerome Rothenberg | Go to book overview
irregular fluctuations of, and within, bare preference, nothing is gained by the explanation, and we have a unit of measurement which is no unit at all. A more useful explanation, necessarily quantitative, does not appear to exist with the current level of psychological understanding.I am thus suggesting here that when we construct a cardinal utility or welfare index for an individual on the basis of a bare preference unit of measurement; we do not really know what we are measuring, -- whether or not we conceptualize an underlying preference intensity continuum! Certainly this assertion is relevant to the usefulness of Armstrong's system.50If our individual indices are so significantly ambiguous, then our group index can be no less ambiguous; a group index would have to compare bare preferences for different individuals.51 Moreover, the additional set of assumptions which must be incorporated into the postulational system to deduce Armstrong's conclusions is, considering the material of this section, a value judgment which by no means calls for indubitable assent.Given the group of persons studied in Strong's experiment described above, for example, is it at all obvious that we should desire to give the same weight in the group index to the "bare preference" of the individual who distinguished the stimuli into thirty-seven intervals as to the bare preference of the individual who distinguished the same stimuli into only six intervals?52
7-6. Conclusion
We may summarize the conclusions of the present chapter as follows:
1. Acceptance of non-transitivity of indifference neither logically nor empirically requires acceptance of the concept of bare preference. We can have the first without the second, although not conversely.
2. Armstrong has not succeeded in proving, to my mind at any rate, that ordinary preference analysis, supplemented only by non-transitive indifference and Assumptions 5 and 6, itself implies a utility function with cardinal properties.
____________________
50
In the same manner as in the earlier argument of this chapter, my argument in this section does not claim that Armstrong's index would be ambiguous with all logically possible specifications of measurement procedure, but that it does seem ambiguous with those currently available procedures which Armstrong's discussion and my own familiarity appear to make appropriate. I welcome a description of alternative procedures which, given modern findings in the field of psychological scaling, would render an unambiguous index based on "bare preference."
51
Such comparisons would require not only that bare preference be meaningful for one individual, but also that "the" bare preference of individual A stood in some relatively constant relationship to "the" bare preference of individual B over time, so that they could at least be defined equal without such definition being uselessly arbitrary. Our consideration of bare preference for one individual suggests strongly that (1) we would have little knowledge about the original relationship, and (2) we would not be deluded into feeling that the relationship was very likely to remain undisturbed.
52
See the next chapter for an elaboration of this consideration.

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