The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Social Welfare Function

  • Prasanta K. Pattanaik
Reference work entry


The article deals with the related, though distinct, notions of a social welfare function due to A. Bergson and P. Samuelson on the one hand and K.J. Arrow on the other. After introducing the two formal concepts, it gives a brief outline of Arrow’s well-known impossibility theorem, considers some alternative intuitive interpretations of the notion of a social welfare function, and discusses the informational bases of social welfare judgements.


Aggregation Arrow’s theorem Bergson–Samuelson social welfare function Cardinal utility Independence of irrelevant alternatives Interpersonal comparison of utilities Majority rule Non-utility information Pareto principle Preferences Rights Sen, A. Social choice Social preferences Social welfare function Voting paradoxes 

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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Prasanta K. Pattanaik
    • 1
  1. 1.