A welfarist critique of social choice theory

Interpersonal comparisons in the theory of voting


  • Aki Lehtinen TINT, University of Helsinki, Finland




economic methodology, strategic voting, interpersonal comparisons of utility, foundations of social choice


This paper provides a philosophical critique of social choice theory insofar as it deals with the normative evaluation of voting and voting rules. I will argue that the very method of evaluating voting rules in terms of whether they satisfy various conditions is deeply problematic because introducing strategic behaviour leads to a violation of any condition that makes a difference between voting rules. I also argue that it is legitimate to make interpersonal comparisons of utilities in voting theory. Combining a realistic account of voters’ behaviour with a utilitarian evaluation of the outcomes then leads to the judgment that strategic voting is beneficial. If it is, then Arrow's theorem does not have far-reaching consequences for democracy because one of its conditions is not normatively acceptable.

Author Biography

Aki Lehtinen, TINT, University of Helsinki, Finland

Aki Lehtinen is a professor (temporary) of Social and Moral Philosophy at the University of Helsinki, and a university researcher at the Finnish Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (TINT). He has written on modelling and robustness, game theory, and other miscellaneous topics in the philosophy of economics. He has also constructed computer simulation models of strategic voting and published the results in economics and political science journals.




How to Cite

Lehtinen, A. (2015). A welfarist critique of social choice theory: Interpersonal comparisons in the theory of voting. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 8(2), 34–83. https://doi.org/10.23941/ejpe.v8i2.200