Utilitarianism in Classical Political Economy
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Uniwersytet Warszawski
Publication date: 2020-06-23
Stosunki Międzynarodowe – International Relations 2017;53(1):149–167
Utilitarianism had big influence on the consolidation of the principles of economic thought – especially the development of its axiomatic position: the idea of the nature of man as a politically and economically free, rational and egoistic individual; a product of European philosophy and history: the Enlightenment, positi vism, utilitarianism, the French Revolution or British empiricism and liberalism. The adoption of the concept of ‘homo oeconomicus’ was the starting point for reflection on economics for the classical school, for the neoclassical school, and to this day it keeps shaping the understanding of economic phenomena. The classical fathers of utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Francis Edgeworth, were all eminent economists. Those principles, typical of the ‘Western’ civilisation, became the cornerstone of the newly forming principles of political economy. The extent to which the principles of utilitarianism interfered with the development of economics as a science determined the direction of this development, at the same time providing a methodological and terminological instrument explicating the nature and mechanics of economic phenomena. The utilitarian doctrine introduced the notion of happiness into economics, defined in this discipline as utility – the foundation of the marginal revolution; it is considered the source of welfare economics and the distribution theory; it directly shaped the concepts of state and law in economics, it developed the theory of international trade, and its consequentialism provides a direct link between economic actions and moral rules. Given all the above, utilitarianism is a very handy instrument for understanding and explaining economic phenomena, especially in the sphere of culture, which gave rise to it and where it developed. It allows for a fuller examination of the international reality in the sphere of trade, finance or the flow of the factors of production.