Projects in Previous Years

1st Semester 2010/11: Normative Foundations and Mathematical Modelling of Egalitarian and Utilitarian Welfare

Daniele Porello
If you are interested in this project, please contact Daniele by email.
Many classical models of distributive justice rely on utilitarian foundations: the welfare of an individual is the sum of his pleasures and pains and the welfare of a society can be investigated by aggregating individual levels of welfare. This view assumes that it is meaningful to measure and to compare the welfare of individuals, and this assumption is reflected in the mathematical models by the possibility of defining utility functions for each individual and to talk about the overall utility of a society. John Rawls' justice-as-fairness approach constituted the strongest response to the utilitarian view, stressing in particular that individual conceptions of good are not commensurable. Rawls' celebrated book "A Theory of Justice" (1971) changed the agenda of the debate on normative foundations of theories of welfare, stressing questions such as: is it possible to measure individual welfare? is it just? can we compare different individual conceptions of good? what does it mean for institutions to be just? Different answers to these questions entail huge differences in the way in which a model of a well-ordered society is conceived and of course different views of what constitutes a formal theory of a fair distribution of resources.

In this project we are going to discuss a selection of classical works related to the reactions after Rawls by scholars from the economic tradition: Arrow's review of Rawls, Harsanyi's critique of the Rawlsian distribution principle, Sen's notion of capability, Roemer's formalization of primary goods. Two complementary aspects will be covered: the normative assumption justifying the axiomatizations at issue and the mathematical modelling of those assumptions. The aim of this project is to provide a grasp of the tension between (at least) two paradigms of normativity in modelling theories of welfare and to show how different normative intuitions are strictly connected with different mathematical frameworks.

The project is particularly suitable for those who have already taken a relevant course, such as Computational Social Choice or Cooperative Games, as well as for Philosophy students who are interested in mathematical formalization of normative theory of welfare, but it is open to all interested students.
Each student will present some of the articles or chapters from the selected bibliography and write a short essay at the end of the course. Participation in the discussions will form part of the assessment.