Combining individual preference utility functions

Note: work­ing on a re­search agenda, hence the large amount of small in­di­vi­d­ual posts, to have things to link to in the main doc­u­ments.

I’ve been work­ing on a way of syn­the­sis­ing the prefer­ences of a sin­gle given hu­man.

After this is done, there is the busi­ness of com­bin­ing these util­ities into a sin­gle util­ity func­tion for the whole hu­man pop­u­la­tion. One ob­vi­ous way of do­ing this is to weigh the differ­ent util­ities by some in­di­vi­d­ual mea­sure of in­ten­sity, then add them to­gether, and max­imise the sum.

But there are some ar­gu­ments against this. For ex­am­ple, a lot of peo­ple’s prefer­ences is over the be­havi­our or ex­pe­riences of other peo­ple. This in­cludes things like pro­mot­ing re­li­gious or cul­tural be­liefs (and this can cover prefer­ences like want­ing oth­ers to have ba­sic hu­man rights or to be free from op­pres­sive situ­a­tions).

Apart from sim­ple sum­ming, which may re­sult in an ex­ces­sive strength to a ma­jor­ity, there are two other ob­vi­ous solu­tions: the first is to re­move prefer­ences over other peo­ple en­tirely. Note that this would also re­move most prefer­ences over so­cial and cul­tural sys­tems. The other one is to re­move any anti-al­tru­is­tic com­po­nents to the sys­tem: prefer­ences over the suffer­ing of oth­ers are no longer valid (note this would al­low pun­ish­ment-as-a-de­ter­rence, or pun­ish­ment-as-re­tri­bu­tion-to-a-vic­tim, but not pun­ish­ment-as-ab­stract-jus­tice). This may be a bit tricky to define—what’s the clear differ­ence be­tween want­ing to be of higher sta­tus and want­ing oth­ers to be of lower sta­tus? - but might be a de­sir­able com­pro­mise. It might, in­deed, be the kind of com­pro­mise that differ­ent peo­ple would “ne­go­ti­ate to” in some sort of “moral par­li­a­ment” ex­am­ple, since peo­ple of­ten tend to pre­fer their own in­di­vi­d­ual de­sires over de­sires to con­trol other peo­ple, so this might be a solu­tion that would have ma­jor­ity sup­port.