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The Valuation of Decision and Individual Welfare: A Humean Approach


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  • André Lapidus

    (PHARE - Pôle d'Histoire de l'Analyse et des Représentations Economiques - CNRS : FRE2541 - Université Panthéon-Sorbonne - Paris I - Université de Paris X - Nanterre)


Drawing on passages in Book II of the Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), in the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), in the Dissertation on the Passions (1757), and in some of the Essays (1777), this paper is built upon Hume's distinction between three alternative valuations of an individual position: desire (which leads to action), interest, and happiness. The difficulty comes from the fact that desire does not depend on pleasure as an impression, but on the force of an idea of pleasure, based upon a belief in the realisation of the correlative impression. Typically, this belief is linked to the underlying emotional state, expressed in the degree of violence of the passions, which governs both the individual's reactivity to pleasure, and his preference for present (compared to future) pleasures. On the contrary, interest and happiness do not depend on the distortion introduced by beliefs, and are directly linked to pleasure. It is shown that the decisional valuation only coincides with interest in the case of what Hume called a “calm passion”, which gives birth to the greatest happiness.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by HAL in its series Post-Print with number hal-00344868.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Publication status: Published, European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 2010, 17, 1, 1-28
Handle: RePEc:hal:journl:hal-00344868

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Keywords: Hume; decision; welfare; desire; pleasure; belief; passion; intertemporal choice; utility; interest; happiness; décision; bien-être; plaisir; croyance; choix intertemporel; utilité; intérêt; bonheur;

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  1. Robert Sugden, 2005. "Why rationality is not a consequence of Hume's theory of choice," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(1), pages 113-118.
  2. Gordon F. Davis, 2003. "Philosophical Psychology and Economic Psychology in David Hume and Adam Smith," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 35(2), pages 269-304, Summer.
  3. Marc-Arthur Diaye & Andre Lapidus, 2005. "A Humean theory of choice of which rationality may be one consequence," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(1), pages 89-111.
  4. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, 2001. "Time Inconsistent Preferences in Adam Smith and David Hume," Working Papers 2001-19, Brown University, Department of Economics.
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Cited by:
  1. Marc-Arthur Diaye & André Lapidus, 2009. "Pleasure and belief in Hume's decision process," Post-Print, HAL hal-00428918, HAL.
  2. André Lapidus, 2011. "The Possibility of a Welfare Policy in a World of Emotion-Driven Individuals: A Humean Point of View," Post-Print, HAL hal-00538106, HAL.


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