Front Page Titles (by Subject) Subjective Value: Plato, Bentham, & Smith - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1982, vol. 5, No. 2
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Subjective Value: Plato, Bentham, & Smith - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1982, vol. 5, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Subjective Value: Plato, Bentham, & Smith
“The Roots of Hedonism: An Ancient Analysis of Quantity and Time.” History of Political Economy 13 (Winter 1981): 812–823.
Benthamite utilitarianism championed the “spirit of quantitative rationality and subjective individualism” as a touchstone for developing 19th-century classical economic theory. The later marginal utility revolution pursued this same spirit. It is wrong to assume, however, that the “hedonic calculus” arose only after observing the growth of commercial activity in the wake of the eighteenth century. Actually, the theory of quantitative subjective value was forged by the ancient Greeks “with little reference to exchange or commercial values.” Plato's dialogue Protagoras presents this early analysis. Lowry discusses the Protagoras' theory and the context in which the Greeks developed this analysis of quantitative subjective value. It seems likely that Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham were indebted to the Epicurean and Platonic discussions on this and related topics.
Plato's dialogue Protagoras presents a debate between a youthful Socrates and the famous Sophist Protagoras of Abdera, who was instructed by the famous Atomist philosopher Democritus of Abdera. The opening of the dialogue—presenting Protagoras' views on the origins of civil society from the god-given gifts of justice and aidos (fellow-feeling)—anticipates Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and its doctrine of sympathy, shame, and conscience as the origins of human society. Near the end of the dialogue, the theme of the teachability of arete (virtue or excellence) leads to an analysis of pleasure and pain. The idea of subjective pleasure and pain as a measure of well-being coincides with the subjective relativism presented in Plato's Theaetetus in which Protagoras' theory of knowledge is discussed. The Protagoras presents, in the framework of a theory of moral choice, the hedonic calculus along utilitarian, consequentialist lines and the subjective evaluation of good. It seems clear that Bentham's Principles of Morals and Legislation derives its principle of the greatest happiness or pleasure of the greatest number from Plato.
Lowry identifies the setting of Protagoras' hedonic analysis as a materialist formulation of the economics of successful weighing of the important choices in Greek life (particularly efficiency in military, political, and agricultural pursuits). Two rival versions of this theory of choice contend for the laurel. Plato promoted the idea that “reason, primarily the reason of an authoritarian sovereign, should acquire the force of moral law”—in the name of efficiency. By contrast, Atomists like Epicurus (and possibly Protagoras) came closer to the democratic notion of arete (which stressed cooperation, compassion, and the feminine). As non-authoritarians they supported democratic principles and the doctrine of sympathy and fellow-feeling as a basis of social cohesion. Thus “the development of a materialist quantitative value formulation of the basis for choices in the pursuit of efficiency and success” had wide and diverse social implications.
The Atomist-Protagoras-Sophist individualist and participatory tradition—in contrast with Platonic author-itarianism—presented its theory of the innate attraction between atoms as the root of natural mutual sympathy and social cohesion.