Handbook on the Economics of Happiness
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Handbook on the Economics of Happiness

Edited by Luigino Bruni and Pier Luigi Porta

This book is a welcome consolidation and extension of the recent expanding debates on happiness and economics. Happiness and economics, as a new field for research, is now of pivotal interest particularly to welfare economists and psychologists. This Handbook provides an unprecedented forum for discussion of the economic issues relating to happiness. It reviews the more recent literature and offers the interested reader an insight into the vast scope of the field in terms of the theory, its applications and also experimental design. The Handbook also gives substantial indications as to the future direction of research in the field, with particular regard to policy applications and developing an economics of interpersonal relations which includes reciprocity and social interaction theory.
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Chapter 4: Jeremy Bentham’s Quantitative Analysis of Happiness and its Asymmetries

Marco E.L Guidi


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 [1789] 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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