Astronomy and Civilization in the New Enlightenment
Analecta Husserliana, 2011, Volume 107, Part 5, 277-282,
THE PRINCIPLE OF GREATEST HAPPINESS
Abstract: Happiness research has become a hot topic in social sciences in Western countries
in particular in economics recently. Nevertheless there is a considerable scientific pessimism
over whether it is even possible to effect sustainable increases in happiness.
In this paper we argue that the principle of greatest happiness can and must serve, as
fundamental law of human behavior in social sciences, especially that in economics. We
outline a new approach to economic theory, where the governing law of human actions is
based on the GHP.
Introduction. In this paper we argue that the principle of greatest happiness is the basic law
of a relevant economic theory. To underline the principle a short summary of the history and
emergence of the concept of happiness is presented. At the end we outline the foundations of a
theory of social economics based on the greatest happiness principle and indicate its promise
to improve the prospects of mankind.
Every day of our lives, we use the word "happy" in a sense which means "feeling good,"
"having fun," having a good time, or somehow experiencing a lively pleasure of joy. We say
to our friends when they seem despondent or out of sorts, "I hope you will feel happier
tomorrow." It is clear that it is not the happiness.
What is happiness? What makes a human life good -- what makes it worth living and what
must we do, not just merely to live, but to live well? What is the best? The best is the wellbeing
and the well doing in the present, and in the past and in the future. That is the life
satisfaction and the happiness. The happiness has a special time dependence, which
distinguishes it from the concepts of natural sciences, it concern the whole life span.
Happiness means living a good life, or flourishing –as the word eudaimonia in Aristotelian
formulation, rather than simply an emotion.
The first objection against GHP is, that it is not right, as sometimes we are unhappy; we are
not in the state of greatest happiness. Yes, the happiness is a governing law of human actions;
it is the aim of the actions, and not the result. From mathematics it is well known, that the
maximum always depend on the constraints, and when the constraints do not allow the
actions, which would make us happy, then we cannot be in the sate of maximum happiness.
That principle is better formulated in the form that our decisions satisfy the pursuit of
The second objection is that happiness is subjective, so there is no measure for it. In modern
time there are a lot of researches on the field of happiness. The Happiness Formula that the
science of happiness is based on one simple idea. The scientists ask people 'How happy are
you 1-7, 1-10?” The interesting thing is that produces real answers that are meaningful. As an
example we cite the results of Sonja Ljubomirski (Ljubomirski et al 2005), who addresses the
following questions: 1) What makes people happy? 2) Is happiness a good thing?; and 3) How
can we make people happier still? She proposes that a person’s chronic happiness level is
governed by 3 major factors: a genetically determined set point for happiness (40%),
happiness-relevant circumstantial factors (10%), and happiness-relevant activities and
practices (50%). These relatively weak associations with the material and other circumstances
have been deemed surprising and paradoxical, but it is a fact.
The pursuit of happiness as a social goal – as opposed to being a personal matter- opens the
way to authorian policies is a usual contra argument. But the greatest happiness of most
people has obtained a constitutional value already in the US declaration of independence of
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted
among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, “
History of The Greatest Happiness Principle: For Herodotus the happiness can be assigned
to the whole life: Via Croesus and Solon discussion (Herodotus I.29) he gave the description
of the happy life.
„Croesus: "Stranger of Athens, we have heard much of thy wisdom and of thy travels through
many lands, from love of knowledge and a wish to see the world. I am curious therefore to
inquire of thee, whom, of all the men that thou hast seen, thou deemest the most happy?"
Solon: "Tellus of Athens, sire."
"First, because his country was flourishing in his days, he himself had sons both beautiful
and good, he lived to see children born to each of them, and these children all grew up; after
a life spent in what our people look upon as comfort, his end was surpassingly glorious. In a
battle between the Athenians and their neighbors near Eleusis, he came to the assistance of
his countrymen, routed the foe, and died upon the field most gallantly. The Athenians gave
him a public funeral on the spot where he fell, and paid him the highest honours.„
Aristotle looked for final goal of human life. This final goal he identifies on the basis of an
appeal to experience as eudaimonia, a word traditionally translated as happiness. Eudaimonia
carries the notion of objective success, the proper conditions of a person's life. Eudaimonia is
a good life (well being and well acting) for the individual and it includes also success for
one’s immediate family, and for one's descendants.
Aristotle in the Nicomachian Ethics (Book1,6..) said that happiness is desirable in itself and
never for the sake of something else. But honor, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose
indeed for themselves, but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by
means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake
of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself. Happiness, then, is something final and
self-sufficient. He gave a deep definition in (Aristotle 1, 8).
“Happiness then is the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world, and these
attributes are not severed as in the inscription at Delos-
Most noble is that which is justest, and best is health;
But pleasantest is it to win what we love.”
Our present ethical systems can be divided into two main branches, namely deontological and
teleological. Philosophers label duty-based ethics deontological. In duty based ethics the
happiness is not an end, it is not a good, it spoils the human moral.
"Teleological” or result oriented are also called consequentialist because they deal in
consequences. Consequentialist ethics comes from Nineteenth Century British philosophers
Burke, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism is guided by what's
known as the "greatest happiness principle," in which what we're looking to do is to act in
such a manner as to maximize the pleasure and minimize the pain calculated in the sum of all
individuals. We're to try to calculate how much overall pleasure or happiness will be the
consequence (and how much pain/unhappiness avoided) of an action, and that is our guide to
Greatest happiness principle and economics Modern analysis revealed that happy people gain
tangible benefits in many different life domains from their positive state of mind, including
larger social rewards and superior work outcomes (greater creativity, increased productivity,
higher quality of work, and higher income.
Nevertheless in modern main stream economics the happiness does not appear. As a proof I
cite my case. With Robert U. Ayres we prepared a book on reappraisal of microeconomics
(Ayres, Martinas 2005), where the decision principle was formulated as “avoid the avoidable
losses” instead of utility/profit maximization. When I realized that it is a special formulation
of the greatest happiness principle, I could discover that this principle is present in the
The XIXth century gave two economic theories, the Marxism and the neoclassical economics.
According to Marx, the supreme end of man is an immanent and material one, and consists in
happiness. This material happiness must be obtained through organized collectivism. Marx
might see "the pursuit of happiness" as a fundamental right that men are born with in a
communist state, but one that is unobtainable by the working class in a democracy. Also, the
definition of "happiness," according to Marx, would be a social state in which all men are
truly treated equal, and where no man oppresses another through restraints such as corrupt
government. But it is arguable that Marx was implicitly working on the assumption that
society ought to be organized to optimize the happiness of the greatest number of people.
(Page, 2008, p.72.)
On the other hand the basic concept of neoclassical economics, the utility is based on the
GHP. Bentham's added to hedonism the ethical doctrine that human conduct should be
directed to maximize the happiness of the greatest number of people.
Jeremy Bentham postulated the greatest happiness principle, but he reduced the problems of
individual and social motivation to a single principle, the principle of utility. Bentham’s
elements are simple pleasures and pains. Every human act is, and should be, based on a
calculation of probable pleasant and painful outcomes. Bentham defined his principle in the
following fashion (Bentham, p. 76):
„By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every
action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish
the happiness of the party whose interest is in question... not only of every action of a private
individual, but of every measure of government”.
Jevons referred to Bentham's calculus but made it much simpler to enable the mathematical
instrument to be introduced. He rejected Mill's attempt to make utilitarianism a morally
reasonable philosophy by introducing qualities of feelings. (Sigot 2002). Jevons redirected the
focus of analysis away from collective welfare considerations toward the level of individual
decisions. He did not give up moral matters, but he opened the way for the modern utility,
which is already free of ethics. Jevons introduced the distinction between total utility, and he
established the equimarginal principle, as the rule for choices between commodities. Jevons's
vast improvements over Bentham's performance consist in the following features of his
formal utility analysis: (1) his clear distinction between total utility and marginal utility, (2)
his discussion of the nature of marginal utility, and (3) his establishment of the equimarginal
principle, as it relates to alternative uses of the same commodity and to choices between
commodities Utility maximization lead to a Newtonian-type mathematical theory of rational
decisions, where rationality implies that the driving force of actions is the utility
maximization, that is the desire to obtain the more money, the more wealth, the more material
possessions. Governing rule for the human actions is not further the GHP, but the greed. In
modern economic theory greed is a code word for purposeful behavior.
Nevertheless, it is a new phenomenon. Greedy individuals were considered to be harmful to
society, as their motives often appear to disregard the welfare of others. Further, greed was the
synonym of avarice. So they were considered as hopeless people, who are not able to enjoy
the richness of the life, they love only the money. Greed is listed as one of the Christian seven
deadly sins, but desire to increase one’s material wealth has become acceptable in Western
culture. The desire to acquire wealth has been understood as indispensable for economic
prosperity. Nowadays many economic rationalists agree that greed is the only consistent
human motivation. The acceptance and need for greed lead to the misunderstanding of the
role of competition. Competition is a fundamental good in utilitarian economics. Competition
is a process, which ensures the maximum efficiency of the economy. The greed implies
competition, so greed produces preferable economic outcomes most times and under most
conditions. The resulting inequalities are the price for the perfect economy.
Neoclassical theories and oversimplified models are being used to provide policy advice at the
highest levels of government, some of which is dangerously shortsighted and – we think –
fundamentally perverse. We are uncomfortable with any theory that assumes existing trends
are optimal – that this is, in effect, ‘ the best of all possible worlds’. We want to call attention
to this fundamental problem and offer some suggestions as to viable alternative models.
In summary, present economic theory uses a caricature of the human decisions. The demand
for mathematical simplicity replaced the pursuit of happiness with maximal greediness. We
need a new mathematical economics, to return to the real foundations. A possible reappraisal
of economics is outlined in the book of. R. U. Ayres and K. Martinás (Ayres and Martinás
2005). The governing law of human actions here was formulated, as „avoid the avoidable
losses”. In the mathematical model the human decisions are defined by the expected profit
and by a parameter called willingness, which reflects the expectations about the future
possibilities and future changes, they depend on the ethical norms. The results show that
without cooperativity the society cannot be stable, further result of competition depends on
The work was sponsored by the Hungarian Research Fund, OTKA K 61586.
Atomic Physics Dept., ELTE, Budapest, Hungary
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Translated by W. D. Ross
Rober U. Ayres, Katalin Martinás, Reappraisal of Microeconomics, Elgar, 2005.
Jeremy Bentham, Principles of Morals and Legislation, p. 17 (ed. John Bowring), London, 1838-1843; Reprinted
New York, 1962.
Herodotus, Histories, (George Rawlinson transl.) http://classics.mit.edu/Herodotus/history.html
Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon M. Sheldon, David Schkade, „Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable
Change”, Review of General Psychology, 2005, Vol. 9, No. 2, 111–131
James Page: Peace Education: Exploring Ethical and Philosophical Foundations, Information Age Publishing,
Nathalie Sigot, Jevons's Debt to Bentham: Mathematical Economy, Morals and Psychology, The Manchester
School, Vol. 70, pp. 262-278, 2002