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Measuring UtilityFrom the Marginal Revolution to Behavioral Economics$
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Ivan Moscati

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780199372768

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199372768.001.0001

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Is There a Unit of Utility?

Is There a Unit of Utility?

Jevons, Menger, and Walras on the Measurability of Utility, 1870–1910

(p.25) chapter 2 Is There a Unit of Utility?
Measuring Utility

Ivan Moscati

Oxford University Press

Chapter 2 discusses how William Stanley Jevons, Carl Menger, and Léon Walras addressed the issue of the measurability of utility. The three founders of marginal utility theory identified measurement with unit-based measurement and, accordingly, searched for a unit of utility that could be used to assess utility ratios. The outcomes of this search were diverse and ranged from Jevons’s idea that a unit to measure utility, although not available at present, may become so in the future to Walras’s assertion that although utility cannot be measured, constructing economic theory as if it were measurable is a scientifically legitimate procedure. The final section of the chapter explains why the current notion of cardinal utility is inadequate for understanding the utility theories of Jevons, Menger, and Walras and accordingly contends that the three founders of marginal utility theory were not cardinalists in the modern sense of the term.

Keywords:   William Stanley Jevons, utility measurement, Carl Menger, unit-based measurement, exchange value, Léon Walras, willingness to pay, ordinal utility, cardinal utility, ratio-scale utility

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