Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 269–282 | Cite as

Contemporary Procedural Utility and Hume’s Early Idea of Utility

  • Shiri Cohen KaminitzEmail author
Research Paper


An appealing concept developed by economists in contemporary happiness studies is that of procedural utility: people’s tendency to value the processes that lead to outcomes in addition to the outcomes themselves. This paper identifies David Hume as an early forerunner of a very similar idea. Moreover, it demonstrates just how Hume used this idea to justify the very idea of commerce. The significance of this is twofold: demonstrating just how Hume is a forerunner of the later concept on the individual level (micro-level), but also pointing to a different approach to the concept of utility on the social level.


Procedural utility David Hume Happiness History of ideas 


  1. Angner, E. (2009). The politics of happiness: Subjective vs. economic measures as measures of social well-being. In L. Bortolotti (Ed.), Philosophy and happiness (pp. 149–166). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  2. Baier, A. (2011). The pursuits of philosophy: An introduction to the life and thought of David Hume. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bruni, L. (2006). Civil happiness: Economics and human flourishing in historical perspective. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Buchanan, J. M. (1986). Liberty, market and the state. Wheatsheaf: Brighton.Google Scholar
  5. Crisp, R. (2005). Hume on virtue, utility and morality. In S. M. Gardiner (Ed.), Virtue ethics old and new (pp. 159–178). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Diaye, M. A., & Lapidus, A. (2012). Pleasure and belief in Hume’s decision process. The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 19(3), 355–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Diener, E. D. (1994). Assessing subjective well-being: Progress and opportunities. Social Indicators Research, 31(2), 103–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dutt, A. S., & Radcliff, B. (2009). Happiness, economics and politics. Cheltenham: EE.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Frey, B. S. (2008). Happiness: A revolution in economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Frey, B. S., Benz, M., & Stutzer, A. (2004). Introducing procedural utility: Not only what, but also how matters. Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, 160(3), 377–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Frey, B. S., & Slutzer, A. (2002). Happiness and economics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2005). Beyond outcomes: Measuring procedural utility. Oxford Economic Papers, 57(1), 90–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2009). Should national happiness be maximized. In A. K. Dutt (Ed.), Happiness, economics and politics: Towards a multi-disciplinary approach. Benjamin Radcliff: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  14. Haakonssen, K. (1989). The science of a legislator: The natural jurisprudence of David Hume and Adam Smith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Harris, J. A. (2010). Hume on the moral obligation to justice. Hume Studies, 36(1), 25–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Harris, J. A. (2015). Hume: An intellectual biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Harrison, R. (1983). Bentham. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  18. Hume, D. (1739) [1956]. A treatise of human nature (Vol. II). London: J.M. Dent & Sons.Google Scholar
  19. Hume, D. (1751) [1983]. An enquiry concerning the principles of morals. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  20. Hume, D. (1752) [1987]. Essays, moral, political and literary, F. M. Eugene (Ed.). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund Inc.Google Scholar
  21. Immerwahr, J. (1989). Hume’s essays on happiness. Hume Studies, 15(2), 307–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Immerwahr, J. (1991). The anatomist and the painter: The continuity of Hume’s treatise and essays. Hume Studies, 17(1), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Immerwahr, J. (1992). Hume on tranquillizing the passions. Hume Studies, 18(2), 293–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kahneman, D., Wakker, P. P., & Sarin, R. (1997). Back to Bentham? Explorations of experienced utility. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 112, 375–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lapidus, A. (2010). The valuation of decision and individual welfare: A Humean approach. European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 17(1), 1–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Long, D. G. (1990). ‘Utility’ and the ‘utility principle’: Hume, Smith, Bentham, Mill. Utilitas, 2(1), 12–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mackie, J. L. (1980). Hume’s moral theory. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rosen, F. (2003). Classical utilitarianism from Hume to Mill. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Rotwein, E. (1970). Introduction to David Hume: Writings on economics (pp. xvi–xxi). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  30. Sayre-McCord, G. (1995). Hume and the Bauhaus theory of ethics. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 20(1), 280–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schabas, M. (2012). Hume on economic well-being. In Alan Bailey & Dan O’Brien (Eds.), The continuum companion to Hume (pp. 332–348). London: Bloomsbury Publishing.Google Scholar
  32. Schneewind, J. B. (1998). The invention of autonomy: A history of modern moral philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Sen, A. (1995). Rationality and social choice. American Economic Review, 85, 1–24.Google Scholar
  34. Skinner, A. (1993). David Hume: Principles of political economy. In D. F. Norton (Ed.), The Cambridge companion to Hume (pp. 225–229). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Spector, H. (2014). Hume’s theory of justice. Rationality, Markets and Morals, 5(84), 47–63.Google Scholar
  36. Sugden, R. (2005). Why rationality is not a consequence of Hume’s theory of choice. The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 12(1), 113–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sugden, R. (2006). Hume’s non-instrumental and NON-propositional decision theory. Economics and Philosophy, 22, 365–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wennerlind, C. (2011). The role of political economy in Hume’s moral philosophy. Hume Studies, 37(1), 43–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science and PPE ProgramThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael

Personalised recommendations