Edgeworth's mathematization of social well-being

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Francis Ysidro Edgeworth's unduly neglected monograph New and Old Methods of Ethics (1877) advances a highly sophisticated and mathematized account of social well-being in the utilitarian tradition of his 19th-century contemporaries. This article illustrates how his usage of the ‘calculus of variations’ was combined with findings from empirical psychology and economic theory to construct a consequentialist axiological framework. A conclusion is drawn that Edgeworth is a methodological predecessor to several important methods, ideas, and issues that continue to be discussed in contemporary social well-being studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-15
Number of pages11
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science
Early online date16 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

I acknowledge the following for constructive feedback on previous drafts: Craig Fraser, Christopher Green, Jamie Mikkelsen, Jin Hao Xie, Steven Zheng, three anonymous referees, audiences at the Mathematical and Numerical Inspirations in Philosophy conference held at Stanford University (April 1, 2020), and audiences at the 2nd ASU Winter Institute for the History of Economic Thought (January 22-23, 2021).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd


  • Calculus of variations
  • Edgeworth
  • History of economic thought
  • Philosophy of science
  • Psychology
  • Social well-being


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