Early Utilitarians

Lives and Ideals

Authors: Binmore, Ken

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  • Explores the lives and ideals of early utilitarian pioneers
  • Explains how economists intend to measure happiness
  • Offers an evolutionary reinterpretation of the contributions of modern philosophers
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About this book

People who put the public good before their own self interest have been admired throughout history. But what is the public good? Sages and prophets who think they know better what is good for us than we know ourselves held sway on this subject for more than two thousand years. The world had to wait for the Enlightenment that burst upon the world in the eighteenth century for an account of the public good free from the prejudices of the privileged classes. 

Utilitarianism is our name for this new way of thinking about morality. Francis Hutcheson encapsulated its aims by inventing its catchphrase “The greatest happiness for the greatest number’’ fifty years before Jeremy Bentham, to whom the slogan is usually attributed.  But what is happiness? Why did Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill prefer to speak of utility? How did economists develop this notion?  Does it really make sense to compare the utilities of different people? Bob may complain more than Alice in the dentist’s chair, but is he really suffering more? Why should I put the sum of everybody’s utility before my own utility? 

This short book asks how such questions arose from the social and political realities of the times in which the early utilitarians lived. Nobody need fear being crushed by heavy metaphysical reasoning or incomprehensible algebra when this story is told. This book argues that the answers to all the questions that the early utilitarians found so difficult are transparent when we stand upon their shoulders to look back upon their work.  The problem for the early utilitarians was to free themselves from the prejudices of their time. The lesson for us is perhaps that we too need to free ourselves from the prejudices of our own time.


About the authors

Ken Binmore is a mathematician turned economist and philosopher. He has held Chairs at the London School of Economics (UK), the University of Michigan (USA), and University College London (UK). He has been involved in a range of applied projects, including the design of major telecom auctions in various countries across the world. As a consequence of the $35 billion raised by the telecom auction he organized in the UK, he was described by Newsweek magazine as the “ruthless, poker-playing economist who destroyed the telecom industry”.  He has contributed to game theory, experimental economics, evolutionary biology and moral philosophy. His books include Natural Justice (OUP), Does Game Theory Work? (MIT Press),  A Very Short Introduction to Game Theory (OUP), Rational Decisions (PUP), Crooked Thinking or Straight Talk? (Springer), and Imaginary Philosophical Dialogues (Springer).

Table of contents (15 chapters)

Table of contents (15 chapters)
  • Introduction

    Pages 1-1

    Binmore, Ken

  • Shaftesbury

    Pages 3-8

    Binmore, Ken

  • Hutcheson

    Pages 9-16

    Binmore, Ken

  • Helvetius

    Pages 17-21

    Binmore, Ken

  • Hume

    Pages 23-28

    Binmore, Ken

Buy this book

eBook $19.99
price for USA in USD
  • ISBN 978-3-030-74583-7
  • Digitally watermarked, DRM-free
  • Included format: PDF
  • ebooks can be used on all reading devices
  • Immediate eBook download after purchase
Softcover $29.99
price for USA in USD
  • ISBN 978-3-030-74582-0
  • Free shipping for individuals worldwide
  • Institutional customers should get in touch with their account manager
  • Covid-19 shipping restrictions
  • Usually ready to be dispatched within 3 to 5 business days, if in stock
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Bibliographic Information

Bibliographic Information
Book Title
Early Utilitarians
Book Subtitle
Lives and Ideals
Authors
Copyright
2021
Publisher
Springer International Publishing
Copyright Holder
The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG
eBook ISBN
978-3-030-74583-7
DOI
10.1007/978-3-030-74583-7
Softcover ISBN
978-3-030-74582-0
Edition Number
1
Number of Pages
IX, 95
Topics