Front Page Titles (by Subject) 3: A Contribution to the Understanding of Eudaemonism - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
3: A Contribution to the Understanding of Eudaemonism - Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis 
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane, Foreword by F.A. Hayek (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
A Contribution to the Understanding of Eudaemonism
Formalist ethics takes its differences with Eudaemonism altogether too lightly when it interprets the happiness of which the latter speaks as satisfaction of sensual desires. More or less consciously, formalistic ethics foists upon Eudaemonism the assertion that all human striving is directed solely towards filling the belly and the basest forms of sensual enjoyment. It is of course not to be denied that the thoughts and endeavors of many, very many people are concentrated on these things. This, however, is no fault of social science, which merely points it out as a fact. Eudaemonism does not advise men to strive after happiness; it merely shows that human striving necessarily tends in this direction. And after all, happiness is not to be found only in sexual enjoyment and a good digestion.
The energistic conception of the Moral sees the highest good in fulfilling oneself, in the full exercise of one’s own powers, and this is perhaps only another way of saying what eudaemonists have in mind when they speak of happiness. The happiness of the strong and the healthy certainly does not lie in idle dreaming. But when this conception is contrasted with Eudaemonism it becomes untenable. What are we to make of Guyau when he says: “Life is not calculation, but action. In every living being there is a store of strength, a surplus of energy, which strives to spend itself, not for the sake of the accompanying pleasurable sensations but because it must spend itself ... Duty derives from strength, which necessarily urges towards action.”7 Action means working with a conscious end, that is, on a basis of reflection and calculation. Guyau is guilty of a lapse into intuitionism, which he otherwise rejects, when he represents a mysterious urge as the guide of moral action. In the idées-forces of Fouillée the intuitionist element is still more clearly revealed.8 What was thought is supposed to urge towards realization. But presumably this is only when the end, which the action serves, seems desirable. To the question why an end appears good or evil, however, Fouillée offers no reply.
Nothing is gained when the teacher of morals constructs an absolute ethic without reference to the nature of man and his life. The declamations of philosophers cannot alter the fact that life strives to live itself out, that the living being seeks pleasure and avoids pain. All one’s scruples against acknowledging this as the basic law of human actions fall away as soon as the fundamental principle of social co-operation is recognized. That everyone lives and wishes to live primarily for himself does not disturb social life but promotes it, for the higher fulfilment of the individual’s life is possible only in and through society. This is the true meaning of the doctrine that egoism is the basic law of society.
The highest demand that Society makes of the individual is the sacrifice of his life. Though all other restrictions of his action which the individual has to accept from society may be considered ultimately in his own interests, this, says the anti-eudaemonistic ethic, can be explained by no method which smooths over the opposition between individual and general interests. The hero’s death may be useful to the community, but that is no great consolation to him. Only an ethic based on duty could help one over this difficulty. On closer considerations we see that this objection may be easily disproved. When society’s existence is threatened, each individual must risk his best to avoid destruction. Even the prospect of perishing in the attempt can no longer deter him. For there is then no choice between either living on as one formerly lived or sacrificing oneself for one’s country, for society, or for one’s convictions. Rather, must the certainty of death, servitude, or insufferable poverty be set against the chance of returning victorious from the struggle. War carried on pro aris et focis (for our altars and our hearths) demands no sacrifice from the individual. One does not engage in it merely to reap benefits for others, but to preserve one’s own existence. This of course, is only true of wars in which individuals fight for their very existence. It is not true of wars which are merely a means of enrichment, such as the quarrels of feudal lords or the cabinet wars of princes. Thus Imperialism, ever covetous of conquests, cannot do without an ethic which demands from the individual “sacrifices” for the “good of the State.”
The long fight carried on by moralists against the convenient eudaemonistic explanation of the Moral finds its counterpart in the efforts of economists to solve the problem of economic value otherwise than through the utility of consumption goods. Economists had nothing nearer to hand than the idea of value as reflecting in some way the significance of a commodity to human welfare, nevertheless the attempt to explain the phenomena of value with the help of this concept has been given up again and again and other theories of value have been persistently sought. This is because of the difficulties presented by the problem of the quantity of value. There was, for instance, the apparent contradiction that precious stones, satisfying an obviously minor want, have a higher value than bread, which satisfies one of the most important needs, and that air and water, without which man simply cannot live, are generally without value. The basis for erecting a theory of value on the utility of goods was laid only when the idea of a scale of importance of classes of wants was separated from that of the concrete wants themselves, and the fact recognized that the scale according to which the importance of the wants depending on the power to dispose of goods is judged, is that of the concrete wants themselves.9
The difficulty which the utilitarian-eudaemonistic explanation of the Moral had to overcome was not less than that with which economic theory had to fight in the effort to trace economic values back to utility. No one could discover how to bring eudaemonistic doctrine into harmony with the obvious fact that moral action consists just in the individual’s avoiding actions which seem directly useful to him and doing that which seems directly harmful to him. Liberal social philosophy was the first to find the solution. It showed that by maintaining and developing the social bond each individual serves his highest interest, so that the sacrifices made in the fulfilment of social life are only temporary ones. He exchanges a smaller direct advantage for a considerably greater indirect advantage. Thus duty and interest coincide.10 This is the meaning of the harmony of interests of which the liberal theory of society speaks.
Socialism as an Emanation of Asceticism
[7. ]Guyau, Sittlichkeit ohne “Pflicht,” pp. 272 ff.
[8. ]Fouillée, Humanitaires et libertaires au point de vue sociologique et moral, pp. 157 ff.
[9. ]Böhm-Bawerk, Kapital und Kapitalzins, 3rd ed., Part II (Innsbruck, 1909), pp. 233 ff. Publisher’s Note: This is pp. 135 ff. in Volume II of the English edition.
[10. ]Bentham, Deontology, Vol. I, p. 87 ff.