Fairness and utilitarianism without independence

Sinong Ma, Zvi Safra

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In this work we reconsider Harsanyi’s celebrated (J Polit Econ 61:434–435, 1953; J Polit Econ 63:309–321, 1955; Rational Behavior and Bargaining Equilibrium in Games and Social Situations. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1977) utilitarian impartial observer theorem. Departing from Harsanyi’s individual-centered approach, we argue that when societal decisions are at stake, postulates must not be drawn from individualistic behavior. Rather, they should be based on societal norms. Continuing this line of thinking, we state and prove a utilitarian result that, rather than being based on the independence assumption, is based on the societal norm of procedural fairness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-52
Number of pages24
JournalEconomic Theory
Issue number1
Early online date12 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • Fairness
  • Utilitarianism
  • Impartial observer
  • Social welfare function


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