Edited by Luigino Bruni and Pier Luigi Porta
Chapter 1: Happiness, Wealth and Utility in Ancient Thought
Gloria Vivenza 1. Private and public in ancient economic thought This chapter examines the relation between happiness and material goods, as illustrated by the ancient Greeks and Romans; I shall refrain from digressing about issues relating to the idea of happiness in general, which would be too long and complex to be dealt with here. It is generally recognized that ancient moral philosophy attributed an important role to the search for happiness; nevertheless the results were various and the concept of happiness itself diﬀered greatly between one school and another.1 Moreover, when the ancients speak of happiness they generally envisage it as the ultimate end in life, while in economics happiness is frequently interpreted within the framework of a means–ends relationship.2 Many concepts of philosophical origin (from the Socratic ‘know thyself’ to Stoic apathy, Sceptic ataraxy or Epicurean ‘pleasure’, so often misunderstood) have been considered as conditions of the mind and/or of the body conducive to happiness; but it is evident that we cannot discuss so wide a range of subjects in the framework of the main theme of this chapter. We should obviously remember that here we are speaking about happiness for economists, and that before Pareto’s optimality there was the famous ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’ usually attributed to Jeremy Bentham but written down by Adam Smith’s teacher, Francis Hutcheson, albeit traces of it can be found even earlier.3 This kind of modern ‘economic happiness’ may still be compared with ancient philosophical theories which gave...
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