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Interpersonal Comparison of Utility

Utilitarianism posits that the ethical good is the greatest good for the greatest number. Simply conceived, the principle implies aggregation of individual utilities without accounting for distribution across the population (i.e., fairness—a topic that may complicate utilitarian positions), and without regard for interpersonal comparisons, the particular subject of this entry. Needs and tastes may differ among individuals, and two problems are paramount in determining what the greatest good actually is in situations of interpersonal comparison. The first problem is variety, that is, how to allow for the different needs and preferences of all people (e.g., men, women, and transgendered persons; young and old; poor and wealthy; Christian and Taoist). The second problem, given such variety, is interpersonal utility judgment: Who is in a position to ...

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