Choice-based cardinal utility: a tribute to Patrick Suppes


Journal of Economic Methodology

2016, vol. 23, n°3, pp.268-288

Departments: Economics & Decision Sciences, GREGHEC (CNRS)

Keywords: ordinal utility, cardinal utility, preference differences, representation theorems, Suppes, ordinalism, cardinalism

We reexamine some of the classic problems connected with the use of cardinal utility functions in decision theory, and discuss Patrick Suppes’ contributions to this field in light of a reinterpretation we propose for these problems. We analytically decompose the doctrine of ordinalism, which only accepts ordinal utility functions, and distinguish between several doctrines of cardinalism, depending on what components of ordinalism they specifically reject. We identify Suppes’ doctrine with the major deviation from ordinalism that conceives of utility functions as representing preference differences, while being nonetheless empirically related to choices. We highlight the originality, promises and limits of this choice-based cardinalism.