Monday, April 10, 2017

William Stanley Jevons and the calculus of pleasure and pain

William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882) was an English economist best known for utility theory and promoting mathematical economics. As a major figure in the marginal revolution, Jevons helped lay the foundations for utility analysis in economics which is still used today in neoclassical economics. This post is a collection of quotes describing Jevon's philosophy of economics.

Support for mathematical economics

"It is clear that economics, if it is to be a science at all, must be a mathematical science." (The Theory of Political Economy, 1871)

"You will perceive that economy, scientifically speaking, is a very contracted science; it is in fact a sort of vague mathematics which calculates the causes and effects of man's industry, and shows how it may be best applied." (Letter to Henrietta Jevons, 1858)

Calculus of pleasure and pain

"In this work I have attempted to treat economy as a calculus of pleasure and pain, and have sketched out, almost irrespective of previous opinions, the form which the science, as it seems to me, must ultimately take." (The Theory of Political Economy, 1871)

"Pleasure and pain are undoubtedly the ultimate objects of the calculus of economics. To satisfy our wants to the utmost with the least effort - to procure the greatest amount of what is desirable at the expense of the least that is undesirable - in other words, to maximize pleasure, is the problem of economics." (The Theory of Political Economy, 1871)

"My principal work now lies in tracing out the exact nature and conditions of utility. It seems strange indeed that economists have not bestowed more minute attention on a subject which doubtless furnishes the true key to the problems of economics." (The Theory of Political Economy, 1871)

"Repeated reflection and inquiry have led me to the somewhat novel opinion, that value depends entirely upon utility." (The Theory of Political Economy, 1871)

Critique of classical economics

"The conclusion to which I am ever more clearly coming is that the only hope of attaining a true system of economics is to fling aside, once and forever, the mazy and preposterous assumptions of the Ricardian school. Our English economists have been living in a fool's paradise." (The Theory of Political Economy, 1871)

"I protest against deference to any man, whether John Stuart Mill, or Adam Smith, or Aristotle, being allowed to check inquiry. Our science has become far too much a stagnant one, in which opinions rather than experience and reason are appealed to." (The Theory of Political Economy, 1871)

"Among minor alterations, I may mention the substitution for the name political economy of the single convenient term economics. I cannot help thinking that it would be well to discard, as quickly as possible, the old troublesome double-worded name of our science." (The Theory of Political Economy, 1871)

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