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In 1970 Amartya Sen exposed an apparent antinomy that has come to be known as the Paradox of the Paretian Libertarian (Sen, 1970b, pp. 152–57). Sen introduced his paradox by establishing a simple but startling theorem. Roughly put, what he proved was that if a mechanism for selecting social choice functions satisfies two standard adequacy conditions, there are possible situations in which it will violate either the very weak libertarian precept that every individual has at least some rights or the seemingly innocuous Paretian principle that an option should be judged unacceptable if there is an available alternative that everyone prefers to it. Many economists and philosophers have proposed solutions to Sen's problem, but there is no general consensus on what solution (if any) is correct. In the present paper I argue that Sen's original theorem fails to establish the existence of any conflict between libertarianism and Paretianism. Furthermore, I contend that Sen has misinterpreted certain other theorems which he has used to defend the existence of a paradoxical conflict between these two doctrines. In general, I try to show that whenever Sen posits a Paretian-libertarian conflict to explain an apparently troubling result in social choice theory, the difficulty can be better dealt with either by claiming that the theorem in question imposes overly strong background constraints on the form of social choice functions or by claiming that it relies on an unacceptable construal of individual rights.
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