The felicific calculus strikes back

Alan Cribb*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Medical advances, the costs of high technology care, the number of people living longer. The values of sight and hearing, along with the other valued states of affairs associated with health, are incommensurable. The health service is apparently different because it is sometimes expressly concerned with life saving, and it seems odd to say that life protection is a side constraint of health policy as it is for transport policy. But it is worth pursuing the parallel. A system that devotes all its resources to saving those lives immediately at risk is not necessarily the system that saves the most lives. On the strength of the argument various economists have built a supposedly neutral model for informing resource allocation decisions; a new arithmetic of happiness or ‘felicific calculus’ which enables us to spend the health care budget in a way that maximises welfare. The chapter considers an important objection to any attempt to fix the parameters of resource allocation.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAgeing, Autonomy and Resources
PublisherTaylor and Francis Ltd.
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780429860799
ISBN (Print)9781138609716
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


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