From Classical to Neoclassical Utilitarianism 
From Classical to Neoclassical Utilitarianism
by Yale / Ian Shapiro
Video Lecture 6 of 25
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Date Added: June 18, 2011

Lecture Description

In this economics-oriented lecture, Professor Shapiro introduces neoclassical utilitarianism as it was formulated by economist Vilfredo Pareto and further described by Francis Edgeworth, examining such concepts as indifference curves, transitivity, the Pareto principle, and the Edgeworth box diagram. It is revealed that the main departure of neoclassical utilitarianism from classical utilitarianism was that it did away with Bentham's troublesome interpersonal comparisons of utility. However, Professor Shapiro explains that, if classical utilitarians didn't take the differences between individuals seriously enough, neoclassical utilitarians take these differences hyper-seriously. If classical utilitarianism can be interpreted as a radically redistributive doctrine, neoclassical utilitarianism becomes the exact opposite--that is, a doctrine that is quite friendly to the status quo.

Reading assignment:
Mill, On Liberty, chapters 1-2

Shapiro, Moral Foundations of Politics, chapter 3

Course Index

Course Description

This course explores main answers to the question, "When do governments deserve our allegiance?" It starts with a survey of major political theories of the Enlightenment—Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition—through classical formulations, historical context, and contemporary debates relating to politics today. It then turns to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking. Lastly, it deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking. Practical implications of these arguments are covered through discussion of a variety of concrete problems.

Course Structure:
This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2010.

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