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Just don’t call it paternalism

Richard Layard's blend of Benthamite utilitarianism and modern psychology suggests a new mission for politics. It's a pity he can't call it what it is

By Tom Nuttall   April 2005

Happiness: Lessons from a New Science by Richard Layard (Allen Lane, £17.99)

In his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), Jeremy Bentham describes his “felicific calculus”—an algorithm for working out the amount of happiness likely to be caused by a given action. Under Bentham’s utilitarianism, the right action is that which leads to the greatest happiness. So the felicific calculus—including such variables as intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity and purity—provided people with a scientific method for determining how to behave morally.

This approach to an aspect of human existence as apparently intangible as happiness seems anachronistic, a…

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