Arrow's Theorem and Engineering Design Decision Making

Michael J. Scott and Erik K. Antonsson

Research in Engineering Design
Volume 11, Number 4 (2000), Pages 218-228.


This article establishes that Arrow's General Possibility Theorem has only indirect application to engineering design.  Arrow's Theorem states that there can be no consistent, equitable method for social choice.  Many engineering design decisions are based on the aggregation of preferences.  The foundation of many engineering decision methods is the explicit comparison of degrees of preference, a comparison that is not available in the social choice problem.  This explicit comparison of preference levels is coupled with the choice of an aggregation method, and some forms of aggregation may be inadequate or inappropriate in engineering design.