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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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When Unit-Based Measurement Ruled the World

When Unit-Based Measurement Ruled the World

An Interdisciplinary Overview, 1870–1910

Chapter:
(p.15) chapter 1 When Unit-Based Measurement Ruled the World
Source:
Measuring Utility
Author(s):

Ivan Moscati

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780199372768.003.0002

In order to illustrate the broad intellectual context within which the early discussions of utility measurement took place, chapter 1 reviews the history of the understanding of measurement in philosophy, physics, psychology, mathematics, and areas of economics before and beyond marginal utility theory. This review reveals that between 1870 and 1910, all these disciplines were dominated by the unit-based or, equivalently, ratio-scale conception of measurement. According to this conception, measuring the property of an object consists of comparing it with some other object that is taken as a unit and then assessing the numerical ratio between the unit and the object to be measured. This chapter also shows that late-nineteenth-century discussions of measurement in mathematics established the cardinal–ordinal terminology that later passed into economics. However, the mathematical concept of cardinal number is different from the economic concept of cardinal utility, which entered the scene only in the 1930s.

Keywords:   unit-based measurement, ratio-scale measurement, Aristotle, psychological measurement, Gustav Fechner, Hermann von Helmholtz, Otto Hölder, Andreas Voigt, exchange value, Jeremy Bentham

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