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Edgeworth on the foundations of ethics and probability


  • Alberto Baccini


The paper analyses the foundation of utilitarian ethics and theory of probability in the works of Francis Y. Edgeworth. It is argued that he pursued a unitary philosophical project: the search for a common epistemological foundation for the social sciences. Their common root is the idea of 'hereditary experience' derived from Herbert Spencer's work. This idea justified Edgeworth's adoption of the notion of the man as a 'pleasure machine', which was necessary to solve the maximization problems in ethics and economics; and the enlargement of the frequentist definition of probability, necessary for the development of his statistical theory.

Suggested Citation

  • Alberto Baccini, 2007. "Edgeworth on the foundations of ethics and probability," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 14(1), pages 79-96.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:eujhet:v:14:y:2007:i:1:p:79-96 DOI: 10.1080/09672560601168447

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alberto Baccini, 2004. "High pressure and black clouds: Keynes and the frequentist theory of probability," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 28(5), pages 653-666, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Stavros Drakopoulos & Ioannis Katselidis, 2015. "From Edgeworth to econophysics: a methodological perspective," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 22(1), pages 77-95, March.
    2. Tomoyuki Uemiya, 2008. "F.Y. Edgeworth’s Mathematical Psychics and his Utilitarianism: The Derivation from the ‘Sidgwick-Barratt Controversy’," Discussion Paper Series 37, School of Economics, Kwansei Gakuin University, revised Mar 2008.
    3. Drakopoulos, Stavros A., 2014. "Mathematical Psychics and Hydraulics: The Methodological Influence of Edgeworth and Fisher," MPRA Paper 52981, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    Francis Y. Edgeworth; probability; utilitarianism;

    JEL classification:

    • B13 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Neoclassical through 1925 (Austrian, Marshallian, Walrasian, Wicksellian)
    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • B40 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - General


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