Economics and Philosophy

Essays

What is Utility?

D. W. Hasletta1

a1 University of Delaware

Social scientists could learn some useful things from philosophy. Here I shall discuss what I take to be one such thing: a better understanding of the concept of utility. There are several reasons why a better understanding may be useful. First, this concept is commonly found in the writings of social scientists, especially economists (see, for example, Sen and Williams, 1982). Second, utility is the main ingredient in utilitarianism, a perspective on morality that, traditionally, has been very influential among social scientists. Third, and most important, with a better understanding of utility comes, as I shall try to show here, a better understanding of “personal welfare”. or, in other words, of what may be said to be in people's best interests. Such an understanding is useful to social scientists and philosophers alike, whether for utilitarian purposes or not.