Why is it not possible to compare benefits between people?

Dominik Teiml on his blog wrote an article, in which he argues that an interpersonal comparison of benefits is possible. But he is wrong.

Speculation - source: stavebni-formu.cz
Speculation - source: stavebni-formu.cz

Imagine Peter and Paul.

Petr likes goulash - he likes to eat it. He finds this food useful, he feels the benefit.

Pavel doesn't like goulash - he doesn't like eating it. He does not consider this food useful, it does not feel useful.

Utility is not a property of things, but the result of people's evaluation - something that comes from us, not from things. The thing has no objectively definable benefit.

So why can't the benefits be compared between people?

Needs and preferences

One uses things that one finds useful in order to meet some of one's needs. For example, I am hungry - I have a need that I want to "fulfill", satisfy. I want to eat. Is my hunger the same as your hunger? Is my hunger the same as the hunger of an African child? Is my hunger the same as my neighbor's hunger? It's not.

My hunger is completely different. I like different food, I prefer different tastes. If my hunger is different (incomparable - it is neither worse, nor better, neither any, nor any) than my neighbor's hunger, my benefit in fulfilling that need is different (incomparable) to my neighbor's.

Or take the example of Henry from the fairy tale The Princess of the Mill. Can we compare its "benefit" with an emperor drowning in depression?

After all, Henry is obviously happier than an emperor. Or not?

But what is happiness? Is there an objective value definition of happiness? Is happiness health? Family? Money? No one knows. Do we know so objectively that Henry is happier than an emperor? We don't know. We only know this from the position of our value court.

He can also be a happier emer - what if the emar's happiness lies in "being different", "being depressed" and "being the center of attention"? The emeraldy makes a certain community accessible to people - and what if the emara's "happiness" lies in that community? After all - an emperor would not be an emperor if it did not benefit him - Happiness.

It is clear that the statement that Henry is obviously happier than an emperor is mere subjective judgment of value. There is no objective comparison of happiness. If we identify happiness with utility, we get the result: an objective comparison of utility is not possible.

There is no objective comparison of needs and human goals. We do not know which goals are objectively "worse" and which are objectively "better". And if we think so, it is a value-colored statement.

The benefits are based on the needs and preferences of individuals. I, as an individual, have my specific needs and preferences that are completely unique. They are made independent of other people, depending on my own decisions. It is not shaped "above" for us, it is not dictated to us. It comes from us. There is no "social benefit" that unites people among themselves. It is not possible to compare the benefits between people.

Perception of time and place

Benefit is the result of human judgment, its knowledge, information. It is a purely human thing. As such, it is linked to a specific time and place - a specific time and place exists and is perceived only in the sphere of human-individual action. Time is perceived subjectively, instead of as well. And only to this subjective perception is the benefit attached. Utility is thus a subjective thing, it cannot be compared. It cannot be said that Peter likes goulash, he benefits so much from it than Paul, who does not like to benefit. What if Peter is thirsty? What if Paul is hungry and only goulash is available? What if…

We cannot compare benefits. Any interpersonal comparison of utility is also a comparison of utility over time and place - but in time and place the perception of benefit is constantly changing. It is not possible.

It's like an interpersonal comparison of happiness. What is "luck" for whom? But when? Where? Can we somehow "compare" it? It is the same. We can say that something is something for someone from our value point of view. However, this statement is the only thing we can do. The comparison is already a value (subjective) court.

To say that goulash is more useful to Peter than to Paul, is not an objective but a subjective value claim.

Any admission of the interpersonal comparison of benefits is thus an admission of the possibility of the existence and functioning of socialism and central planning "Under the conditions of high-performance computers" - FA Hayek refuted this argument several decades ago…

0 comments

  1. @dominik
    How would you like to quantify the benefits even in theory? The evaluation of the questionnaire can be deleted because it can hardly be called objective. A measurement that is independent of conscious subjective evaluation can be truly objective. But any physical or chemical measurable changes in the brain or elsewhere in the body have nothing to do with the term, because the benefit is precisely "conscious subjective evaluation." Subjective evaluation is a simple output of many factors that differ for each person (education, character, physical disposition, current mood blah, blah, blah) and by definition excludes any objectification.
    And it is not even necessary, because each individual knows for himself what will bring him the greatest benefit at a given moment, and his preferences develop accordingly.
    Universal ethics should certainly take into account the maximization of utility as an integral part of human action and the fact that utility is subjective, relating to the individual, as well as other natural features of man. Ethics should therefore concern individuals as real persons, should be universal, ie valid for all persons, and should prevent or resolve conflicts, ie lead to the survival of the human species. In my opinion, the ethics of "natural rights" fulfills this, although I do not think that these are natural rights in the sense given by nature or by God.
    It is possible and even desirable for such an ethic to sometimes conflict with maximizing the benefits of some people. But it never gets into a conflict with maximizing the benefits of all or most people. This would then be contrary to any of the above principles (universality, survival, etc.)

  2. I read your article on utilitarianism.)… But I don't want to clean it all over again, it's quite long.

    "Utilitarianism says that aggregate (total) benefit must be maximized independently of space-time."

    But at the same time I guess somewhere you write that by increasing the total aggregate benefit actually increases the benefit and yourself… So in the end you are back to your own benefit, in the end you try to maximize the "total benefit" because it will bring benefits to you or not?

  3. @ 13: Wait, I thought we were talking about the definability of units of measurement, not the definability of the utility itself. (He wrote "But what definition should 1 happyon have?") So when it comes to the definition of utility, I commented on it in the article: "definition of the most important concept of this article, utility (also well-being, satisfaction, happiness, joy, pleasure us satisfaction ’) is, in my view, redundant: partly because it is no stranger to anyone, and partly because it can always be defined materialistically as a certain amount of certain chemicals in certain areas of the body under certain circumstances (details, how it is obvious, I don't know much). ”Perhaps I will add - in any theory it is not possible to define everything, just as it is never possible to prove everything (see philosophical skepticism). Every theory is based on certain assumptions, as well as on certain indefinable objects, and for me it is useful.

    @ 14: "Benefit is a subjective matter, and what is subjective is simply inherently immeasurable (or am I wrong)?" On his blog It is a need I'm in one comments he wrote: “Utility (as well as all utilitarianism) is, in my view, both subjective and objective, depending on what we are talking about. It's completely subjective and relative in that it derives every benefit from other sources - for example, you like to program (judging by your description on Twitter), I've tried it several times and never once did it catch me. However, the benefit is objective in that it can theoretically be quantified and therefore maximized. "

    "Prove the" truthfulness "of minarchism" - Well, maybe my interest in mathematics has soaked here too much. As proof of the truth of minarchism, of course, I meant the justification that it is really the best political system. I am going to do this by convincing the first readers that the benefits need to be maximized, and then explaining why I think minarchism fulfills this.

    "The right to food, drink, etc. did you mean that the Socialists pretend to be natural rights?" It doesn't matter if we call them natural rights or just rights, the principle is the same. And yes, have you ever talked to a socialist? Did you watch the protests in Greece? Their main argument is that concepts such as private education violate human rights, because everyone has the right to education.

    @ 15: Regarding the objectification of the subjective, I commented in response to comment No. 14.

    "Of course, it is possible to compare the benefits (happiness) of two people, but the result, that one has more benefits than the other, has no universal value. At some point, it may tell a pub owner to cook goulash instead of fryer, because its customers prefer goulash, but it doesn't universally say anything about goulash, fryer or utility itself. ”Misunderstandings again. I'm not saying that this necessarily implies that goulash is objectively better than a fryer. This only means that the benefits are theoretically comparable between theories.

    "Furthermore, I believe that socialism can just as well refer to utilitarianism if it wants to increase the income of the poor (ie their benefit) at the expense of the rich. So utilitarianism is certainly not a wall against socialism. ”Certainly not. But first we need to agree on an ethical direction. There is no point in debating whether minarchism or anarcho-capitalism is better, when one side refers to utilitarianism and the other to natural rights. If there is no consensus on the ethical direction, that is, on the goals of our hypothetical system, then any discussion on how to achieve these goals is completely useless. That is why I try to make us all agree on the need to maximize benefits, and only then can we have a well-founded and fruitful debate on how to achieve this goal - whether through socialism, democracy, minarchism or anarcho-capitalism.

    "Contrary to following some principle and benefit, I don't think is the happiest." However, I am only opposed to those principles that do not maximize the benefits. Against claims like "It is necessary to maximize the lead, regardless of the benefit." Petr Mach said something similar when I was working with him. interview. If the principles maximize the benefit, then of course I don't have them against them at all.

    "It happens when someone thinks that the best benefit can be achieved, for example, by greater redistribution, but then it's a dispute between what really brings us closer to the desired goal or moves us away from it." So, so.

    @ 17: "even though I didn't quite understand what that utilitarianism actually meant to us" Read my article.

    "The fact that everyone wants to maximize their usefulness is perhaps clear" This is not what utilitarianism says, but the psychological hedonism that my first article.

    @ 19: "It sounds awkward because science is not at such a level as to measure" pleasure "…" I agree.

  4. "Theoretically, it's possible to be in 2 places at once." That probably exceeds my imagination, so I don't know…

    Pofiderne it sounds because science is not yet at such a level as to measure "pleasure"…

  5. @maryo:
    Theoretically, it is possible to be in 2 places at once. Is such a theory useful?
    It is practically possible to measure brain activity, the presence of some substances in the body, but the result is strictly speaking only the value of el. impulses and chemicals. To infer from this an idea or benefit is, to put it mildly, pofidery.

  6. I wanted to delete the addition to the first sentence, it was supposed to be there "even though I didn't fully understand what the utilitarianism actually meant to us." The fact that everyone wants to maximize their benefits is perhaps clear, and nothing else is actually written there and there is nothing to object to.

  7. 12. Dominik Teiml -> Well, it's inconsistent. I thought it adds as in the sense that there is a lot of truth in both articles, at least it affects me that way, even though I didn't quite understand what

    15. Roman -> It is theoretically possible to measure the thoughts of an alien from another galaxy :))… Each action has its own reaction. Even the benefit is somehow manifested, for everyone differently (which makes the measurement much more complicated), but still…

  8. @ Dominik:
    In my judgment, utility is based on subjective evaluation, and this precludes the objectification of utility (its universal measurement by any unit of utility). Moreover, the benefit stems from the preference or preference of something over something else. It can only be described in order (value scale) - at a given moment I prefer this the most, then that and then that.
    Of course, it is possible to compare the benefits (happiness) of two people, but the result, that one has more benefits than the other, has no universal value. At some point, it may tell a pub owner to cook goulash instead of fryer, because its customers prefer goulash, but it does not say anything about goulash, fryer or utility itself.
    Furthermore, I believe that socialism can just as well refer to utilitarianism if it wants to increase the incomes of the poor (that is, their benefits) at the expense of the rich. So utilitarianism is certainly not a wall against socialism.
    In contrast, following the principle and utility of contrasting is also not the happiest. Mostly, by following a certain principle, I create the conditions for the greatest benefit. When I want to fly, the best way to do that is to adapt to the laws of physics. When I want a rich society, I have to follow economic laws and the ethics of private property. When I prefer freedom, it is best to follow the same principles. there is no contradiction in this. It occurs when someone thinks that he can achieve the best benefit, for example, by greater redistribution, but then it is a dispute between what really brings us closer to the desired goal or moves us away from it.
    Finally, a priori claims are no argument in a circle.

  9. @dominik
    I don't know if I understood it all but you say that we don't need to measure utility but then again that it can be measured, etc. Utility is a subjective matter and what is subjective is simply inherently unmeasurable (or am I wrong)?
    Prove the "truth" of minarchism - well, I don't know what you mean. It falls (in my opinion) just with the previous one. And the "natural rights" that socialism uses - I already have a total potato pancake. The right to food, drink, etc. did you think that the Socialists considered them to be natural rights? Maybe, but fun :-)…

  10. @dominik

    "We will measure the level of benefit of one person at a time, and we will call this one hedon - done."

    Without the definition of a hedon, you don't know what to measure or how to measure it. Do you want to express the benefit in hedons and find out the hedon with the help of benefit? After all, this is the definition of a circle as embroidered. NOT DONE!

  11. A few notes:

    @ 4: Yes.

    @ 5: Understand: I argue that the benefits are theoretically comparable (but in practice it is both impossible and undesirable). Luke claims that this is never possible. My opinion and Lukáš's cannot complement each other, but according to your comment, I would say that the two of us agree in everything.

    @ 7: In theory, this doesn't bother us, because, as you say, the unit is definable. We measure the level of benefit of one person at a time, and we call this one hedon - done. However we define the unit of utility, it will never lead to different conclusions, because it is always the same utility, and even that (in absolute value) the same amount of utility. When choosing between a short and a long break, it doesn't matter if you measure that time in milliseconds, seconds, minutes or even hexadecimal hours. Units are a human invention, in theory they do not interfere with us in any way. If you think that a different definition would lead to a single different conclusion, give a single example. 😉

    As I read the discussion, I would just like to add that utilitarianism is not a political direction, but an ethical one. Of course, I do not want to measure the benefit, precisely because it is unnecessary, because free choice is, in my opinion, a very reliable directive. Utilitarianism is, as I have already written, a mere tool to prove the truth of minarchism and to refute directions that refer to other ethics, such as natural rights, which enjoy both socialism (“everyone has the right to food, drink, housing, education, health care, employment ”) and anarcho-capitalism (“ everyone has an absolute right to private property ”).

  12. Otherwise, of course, I mean it all in theory. Even if it did, I don't recognize the violence unless they "otherwise" prevent them from getting more violent. I definitely wouldn't want to force anyone into something, even if I had to calculate a thousand times that it would bring him something useful. But when I'm done, there may be a situation where you see a suicide and you have a "one hundred percent" calculation that when he eats a red pill that he will be happy after death. to decide for himself… But what if his left foot is already in the air? 🙂 It's no longer time for arguments… But I don't know the answer is more correct… What if "up there" is really happier? I don't know, I didn't count it :))

  13. If I knew how to measure it, I would have already made a patent. … Maybe who believes in God… I need to work on this once with the help of the free market… Or the communists will invent it or no one… I have quite close to anarcho-capitalism I would say 🙂

  14. @maryo

    I don't think it would work because different brains react differently to the same amounts of chemicals. For example, anti-depressants. And they don't affect some at all. I.e. same substance, same amount, different result.

    So, for example, we would measure that one person has 5mg of serotonin in the brain and the other 4mg. But we cannot deduce from this which of them is happier.

    Even if the amount of happiness (benefit) could theoretically be measured - wouldn't this measurement be so costly that the total benefit would be lower than if the benefit were not measured and would operate in a free market regime?

    And besides, you may know the principle of occam razor (http://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occamova_b%C5%99itva) - ie roughly: If two systems try to achieve the same goal, it is more sensible to choose the simpler one. I find anarcho-capitalism far easier than any other system.

  15. So I take the pleasure as a pleasant feeling. And I understand a person as such a biological machine, although of course I can't answer enough questions on my own mu An example could be a lack of serotonin. It needs to be measured and could say something about the subjective feelings of the individual… In the same way, in theory, a person could be "connected to a computer" and read his feelings from the monitor :))

  16. @maryo

    The measurement deviation is something else - you can arbitrarily reduce it by using more accurate and accurate meters.

    But there is no benefit to the physical dimension, so you don't even have how to make that gauge. We could make a unit like "happyon". But how would we define it? For example, 1 second is defined as the time it takes for a cesium atom to move from one state to another state (more precisely, http://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sekunda).

    But what definition should 1 happyon have? We cannot even define happyon, so we cannot even measure it. The problem is not in the deviation of the measurement, but in the impossibility of defining happyon, ie the unit of happiness.

    Of course, this would not be a problem, because we can theorize over a system in which we assume that such a unit is definable. Then we can come up with different theories and conclusions that will apply in this system. The problem is when we try to apply the knowledge from such a system to a system in which this unit is not definable and therefore completely different rules, theories and therefore different conclusions apply.

  17. And in fact, it may not even be a measurement, an estimate, the worse 🙂

  18. I agree with Dominik without ever saying anything about utilitarianism except that I have ever seen it on wikipedia. Theoretically, this is possible under the assumption that all our factors… In fact, we can not accurately compare in practice any quantities, because it is exactly we would have to measure them accurately. And there is always some measurement deviation! It's the same as judging someone else's benefit. It's just a measurement deviation. Only the deviation cannot judge the deviation, because no one has a "branded opinion"… So I agree with both and it seems to me that I am adding to these opinions 🙂

  19. @Dominik Teiml

    Do I understand correctly that according to utilitarianism it is possible (at least theoretically) to decide that Peter will benefit more from goulash than Paul from walking through nature and also by how much more will he be greater?

  20. I have already commented on this topic; I am sorry that he completely neglected both the evolutionary and materialistic arguments that I have explained <a href="https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/1932/8043/files/200721_ODSTOUPENI_BEZ_UDANI_DUVODU__EN.pdf?v=1595428404" data-gt-href-en="https://en.notsofunnyany.com/">here</a>. Anyway, I will now try to refute your arguments:

    "Benefit is not a property of things, but the result of people's evaluation - something that comes from us, not from things. The thing has no objectively definable benefit. ”Yes! The thing certainly has no objectively definable benefit. Everyone gets a different amount of benefit from that thing. What exactly do we disagree with?

    "My hunger is completely different. I like different food, I prefer different tastes. ”I also agree. Hunger is different because we each have different priorities. When I'm hungry, I imagine the lean TWister Premium (which, by the way, they have stopped selling), for example, you imagine the Big King XXL. But you could say that someone is more hungry than someone else. Do you really deny it? In your opinion, can't it be said that I am currently (just coming from lunch) hungry (not OTHER, but LESS) hungry than a starving child in Africa?

    “Is there an objective value definition of happiness? Is happiness health? Family? Money? ”According to this interpretation, it does not exist. It cannot be said that happiness (== benefit) is family, health or money, because we get every benefit from something else.

    "He can also be a happier emer - what if the emar's happiness lies in 'being different', 'being depressed' and 'being the center of attention'? The emeraldy makes a certain community accessible to people - and what if the emperor's "happiness" lies in that community? "In my contribution was an important phrase "considering suicide." I recognize that one can benefit from being undercut, but once one is serious about suicide, it is clear that one's benefit has fallen below a certain threshold (it has fallen below or close to * zero *).

    "The statement that Henry is obviously happier than an emperor is a mere subjective judgment of value." survive. When someone was of low benefit, he probably looked sad, we saw it and could ask him exactly what he was - if he was hungry, thirsty, cold or feverish.

    "There is no objective comparison of happiness." It is not possible in practice, but in theory it is, and that is exactly what it is about.

    "I, as an individual, have my specific needs and preferences that are completely unique. They are made independent of other people, depending on my own decisions. It is not shaped "above" for us, it is not dictated to us. It comes from us. " Yes Yes.

    "There is no 'social benefit' that unites people among themselves. It is not possible to compare the benefits between people. ”Your previous sentences do not imply this at all. That everyone benefits from other sources means that everyone benefits differently? Of course not, and all this indicates.

    "It cannot be said that Peter likes goulash, he benefits so much from it than Paul, who does not like to benefit. What if Peter is thirsty? What if Paul is hungry and only goulash is available? What if… ”(I assume there should have been a state“ who doesn't like goulash. ”) In this reasoning, of course, I assumed that all other factors were the same. We simply sit in a pub and choose food - Peter says he will have goulash because he expects the greatest benefit from it, and Paul says he will have fried cheese because he expects the highest benefit from it.

    I think we're kind of missing. I do not want to compare the benefits between people, I am aware that it is impossible in practice. But the statement "it is not possible to do this" - that is, that the benefit of people cannot be traced does not imply "it is not true" - that the benefit of people * in theory * would not be comparable if we had all the available information. You understand, a mutually comparable benefit for me is not a goal that I am trying to prove, because, as I have already indicated, that sentence is quite empty, precisely because it is unfeasible. A mutually comparable benefit is a mere lemma (from the language of mathematics, that is, an auxiliary statement - a statement that implies the thesis we are trying to prove) in the proof of utitliarism - see my article.

    PS: I would recommend you to install a Disqus comment system on your blog. The default system is quite impractical and inconvenient - I can't simply log in here via a service, I can't put my comment directly on FB and Twitter, I can't reply to comments directly, I can't link to individual comments directly, I can't log in to receive responses, etc. etc. Disqus is owned by WordPress, so it shouldn't be a problem.

  21. Ondra: Sure, as a seventeen-year-old student, I try to normalize everyone with rhetoric and propaganda so that I can rule them more easily and rob them more easily. One more thing?

  22. But it is a classic, the goal of normalizers has always been to normalize people, because they are then easier to rule, easier to direct and easier to rob.

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