Edited by Luigino Bruni and Pier Luigi Porta
Chapter 4: Jeremy Bentham’s Quantitative Analysis of Happiness and its Asymmetries
Marco E.L. Guidi 1. Introduction Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) is universally recognized among philosophers as the founding father of utilitarianism, and among economists as a forerunner of rational choice theory. However, his analysis is often judged primitive and naive. Among the main objects of this negative evaluation, the hedonistic content of his psychology and his cardinalist approach to the measure of value rank ﬁrst. It is generally assumed that Bentham simplistically believed in the measurability of feelings, implying inter alia homogeneity and symmetry between pain and pleasure, perfect substitutability among pleasures of diﬀerent kinds, interpersonal comparison of utility, and an additive social welfare function. Moreover, Bentham’s emphasis on probability and remoteness as ‘dimensions’ of pleasure and pain and the central role attributed to expected utility in his theory of motivation are almost universally ignored. In order to rescue Bentham from this reductive appraisal, some interpreters, including myself (Guidi 1991: 91), have argued that ‘Bentham himself was clearly always more interested in quality than in quantity’ (Harrison 1983: 149). It is also contended that Bentham was increasingly sceptical about the feasibility of the ‘feliciﬁc calculus’ (Dinwiddy 1989), whose features he had outlined in chapter 4 of An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (hereafter IPML) (Bentham  1970), a work privately printed as early as 1780 and published in 1789. According to this interpretation, Bentham moved from quantity to a taxonomic approach applied to the species of pleasure and pain as ‘motives’ of action, which he did...
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