The Interpretation of Interpersonal Utility Comparisons: Positive, Normative and Descriptive

  • J. B. Davis


While interpersonal utility comparisons are indispensable to the determination of utility maxima, their interpretation as either normative or positive produces awkward conclusions. This paper alternatively reinterprets interpersonal utility comparisons as descriptive and value-laden rather than as either normative or positive. On this basis they are characterized as functional concepts, and are thus argued to be objective. This treatment suggests that it is possible to derive evaluative statements from descriptive ones, contrary to the usual view of the is-ought problem. Recent philosophy of the language results are employed to support these views.