The Pursuit of Happiness: Philosophical and Psychological Foundations of Utility

ISBN : 9780198856450

Louis Narens; Brian Skyrms
208 Pages
138 x 216 mm
Pub date
Nov 2020
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Utilitarianism began as a movement for social reform that changed the world, based on the ideal of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. There is a tendency to enter into debates for and against the ethical doctrine of Utilitarianism without a clear understanding of its basic concepts. The Pursuit of Happiness now offers a rigorous account of the foundations of Utilitarianism, and vividly sets out possible ways forward for its future development. To understand Utilitarianism, we must understand utility: how is it to be measured, and how the aggregate utility of a group can be understood. Louis Narens and Brian Skyrms, respectively a cognitive scientist and a philosopher, pursue these questions by adopting both formal and historical methods, examining theories of measuring utility from Jeremy Bentham, the founder of the Utilitarian movement, to the present day, taking in psychophysics, positivism, measurement theory, meaningfulness, neuropsychology, representation theorems, and the dynamics of formation of conventions. On this basis, Narens and Skyrms argue that a meaningful form of Utilitarianism that can coordinate action in social groups is possible through interpersonal comparison and the formation of conventions.


1 The Pursuit of Happiness: Preview
Part I: The Utility Concept
2 Jeremy Bentham - Philosophical Radical
3 Early Utilitarians
4 Nineteeth-Century Psychophysics
5 Measurement Essentials in a Nutshell
6 Skeptics
7 Using Chance to Measure Utility
8 Harsanyi and Utilitarianism
Part II: Measurement and Psychophysics
9 Neurobiology of Pleasure and Pain
10 Modern Measurement
11 Psychophysical Measures of Intensity
Part III: Interpersonal Comparisons and Convention
12 Product Utilitarianism and an Old-New Way to Measure Utility
13 Dynamics of Convention
14 Where do we Stand?

About the author: 

Louis Narens is Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Abstract Measurement Theory (MIT 1985) and Introduction to the Theories of Measurement and Meaningfulness and the Use of Invariance in Science (Lawrence Erlbaum 2007).; Brian Skyrms is Distinguished Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science and Economics at the University of California, Irvine. His interests include the evolution of conventions, the social contract, inductive logic, decision theory, rational deliberation, the metaphysics of logical atomism, causality, and truth. He is the author of Signals: Evolution, Learning, and Information (OUP 2010), From Zeno to Arbitrage: Essays on Quantity. Coherence, and Induction (OUP 2012), and Social Dynamics (OUP 2014).

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