Preferences, well-being, and value: a critique of the normative foundations of the economic approach to valuing non-market goods Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 21, 2019
  • Raterman, Ty J.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy
  • This dissertation assesses the theory of value underpinning cost-benefit analysis. This theory of value consists of two main claims. The first is that the satisfaction of individual preferences is what counts as a benefit and their frustration is what counts as a cost. This is standardly purported to be the case because satisfying individual preferences promotes individual well-being and, in turn, social welfare. I argue that there is a close connection between well-being and preference satisfaction: an individual's well-being consists in the satisfaction of her fully-informed and rational preferences. However, I maintain that there may be occasions where a person's actual preferences would, if satisfied, diminish her wellbeing and where the state is a better judge than the person herself of what would enhance her well-being. On such occasions, the state should strive to make people informed and rational (in the relevant respects), and then after doing so, attend to and promote the satisfaction of the preferences they then have. This has the effect enhancing individual well-being, and does so in a way that respects individual autonomy. This is fundamentally compatible with CBA. The second claim is that all costs and benefits - including human lives lost or preserved, as well as changes affecting human health and comfort, the cleanliness of air and water, the welfare of non-human species, and ecological services rendered - can be expressed monetarily. I maintain that an individual's willingness to pay or to accept a certain amount of money for a good does not suffice to show that this good's value can be monetized. With respect to certain goods, an individual can have preferences that differ from one another along multiple irreducible dimensions. Different preferences will sometimes incorporate fundamentally distinct attitudes such as appreciation, fascination, respect, agitation, disgust, and shame. Thus, there will be pairs of goods of which it can be said neither that one member is simply more valuable than the other nor that the members are equal in value. This means that rational preferences cannot generate a single ordering of value, monetary or otherwise.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • MacLean, Douglas
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

This work has no parents.