On Ethics, Economics and Public Policy
Chapter 3: Bentham’s legacy
Chapter 3 discusses the influential work of the British legal scholar and philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. His book An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, published in 1789, laid down the classical theory of utilitarianism, arguably the first secular attempt to divorce morality from a theological base. Later philosophers and political economists, notably, Sidgwick, J.S. Mill and Francis Edgeworth developed and modified Bentham’s work. However, none succeeded in resolving certain difficulties associated with the impossibility of measuring utility in ways that allowed aggregation over actions, time frames and people. The chapter goes on to discuss how modern economics came to transform the Benthamite calculus into a system of rational choice based on an ordinal concept of utility, while developing a particular but limited notion of cardinal utility.
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