chapter  5
17 Pages

Is Jevons a liberal of happiness? Pelin Sekerler Richiardi


William Stanley Jevons (1835-82) often declares his attachment to Bentham’s teachings and refers frequently to his predecessor’s “greatest happiness principle” (1871: 92, 260; 1882: 11; 1883: 217 etc.). On the basis of such observations, it would not be irrelevant to put Jevons in the category of liberals of happiness. However, his proximity to Bentham is not the only reason why we could label him this way. Taking its source from Bentham’s felicific calculus Jevons proposes a particular way to evaluate collective utility and social reforms; and his analysis on this subject contains elements that strengthen the opinion about his being a liberal of happiness. Hence, in this chapter we will first attempt to highlight the reasons why Jevons regards himself as Benthamite and why we think that he can legitimately be considered so (section “Benthamite foundations of Jevons’ work”). However, such a statement should not lead to neglecting the originality of Jevons’ writings. If the author follows the Benthamite tradition, his work in some respects differs from that of his predecessor. Jevons’ analysis on social reforms, which is the subject of his articles published under the title of Methods of Social Reform (Jevons 1883, MSR from now on), results in the proposition of a particular method of evaluating collective utility (section “Social reform: a source of utility?”). The examination of this method will lead us to the conclusion that although due to the priority that the author gives to “happiness” compared to “freedom” Jevons can rightly be considered more of a liberal of happiness, “freedom” is an important principle for him as an element of welfare and the reconciliation between the two principles does not seem to be impossible to the author (section “Happiness versus freedom”).