Handbook on the History of Economic Analysis Volume III
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Handbook on the History of Economic Analysis Volume III

Developments in Major Fields of Economics

Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz

Volume III contains entries on the development of major fields in economics from the inception of systematic analysis until modern times. The reader is provided with succinct summary accounts of the main problems, the methods used to address them and the results obtained across time. The emphasis is on both the continuity and the major changes that have occurred in the economic analysis of problematic issues such as economic growth, income distribution, employment, inflation, business cycles and financial instability. Each Handbook can be read individually and acts as a self-contained volume in its own right. It can be purchased separately or as part of a three-volume set.
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Chapter 40: Utilitarianism and anti-utilitarianism

Antoinette Baujard


While there is wide variation in utilitarian approaches to ethics, they are united by their endorsement of the following general principle: the morally right action is judged through the goodness of its outcomes for society, and, conversely, what is good for society is based on what is good for individuals. Utilitarianism, as a family of philosophical theories, has been the most powerful and pervasive approach in the development of economics since the marginalist revolution. Utilitarianism was developed in the eighteenth century and then fully articulated in the nineteenth, designed to do good to the world not from the point of view of the Christian church or any religion, but rather from a secular point of view based on rational thought. It was conceived as a way to think about the legal system, and to improve it on the basis of a single coherent rational and acceptable principle, that of the utility principle. It hence may be used to think about the constitution, about civil and penal laws, and, last but not least, any kind of policy judgment whether economic or social. Economics has endorsed some important aspects of utilitarianism ever since the 18th century. In particular, welfare economics, and hence virtually every public policy recommendation formulated by economists, has for years been influenced by utilitarianism in some manner, albeit not always explicitly recognized. The efforts to get away from utilitarianism may even explain aspects of the evolution of welfare economics.

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