The Futile Search for True Utility

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44 Citations (Scopus)


In traditional decision theory, utility is regarded as a mathematical representation of preferences to be inferred from agents’ choices. In the recent literature at the interface between economics, psychology and neuroscience, several authors argue that economists could develop more predictive and explanatory models by incorporating insights concerning individuals’ hedonic experiences. Some go as far as to contend that utility is literally computed by specific neural areas and urge economists to complement or substitute their notion of utility with some neuro-psychological construct. In this paper, I distinguish three notions of utility that are frequently mentioned in debates about decision theory and examine some critical issues regarding their definition and measurability. Moreover, I provide various empirical and conceptual reasons to doubt that economists should base decision theoretic analyses on some neuro-psychological notion of utility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-347
Issue number3
Early online date15 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


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