Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

The ends of the economic actor: Antonio Rosmini’s incorporation of virtue in happiness

Solari Stefano, Università di Padova

Economists are not always working with a well theorised economic actor. Often their theoretical system is based on partial views of man, or the concepts they use do not supply answers to all possible issues involved in individual action. This is the case of Italian civil economy, which, from the early beginnings proposed the idea of “public happiness” as a fundamental end of political economy. The main exponents of this school, however, remained rather uncertain or approximative on the way to conceive individual decision-making and action. Trapped between Mediaeval view of the individual and sensism, most of them concentrated on reforms and on policy-making. They nonetheless could not avoid dealing with the problem of the exact meaning of happiness. In the first half of the XIX century and interesting and sharp debate between Gioja, Romagnosi and Rosmini (the philosopher) took place. That gave birth, by Rosmini, to one of the most interesting conceptualisation of the individual, joining anthropological and philosophical conceptualisations and using them as an input for an economic view of individual choice. The result is an anticipation of the Austrian and later Robbins understanding of economic choice. Compared to the latter, it had the advantage of a coherent conceptualisation of morals and of the role of reason. It represents a clear model incorporating a variety of ethical elements in decision making in a unitary way. It supplied an idea of happiness as a self-consciousness of our own achievements compared to our ambitions. The end of man is happiness and it can be achieved in different ways, but it is not connected directly to the results of choices.


Keywords: Theory of choice; happiness; self-consciousness