In brief, one of the notoriously ignorant commentators on Murphy’s blog made the following assertion about subjective utility in Austrian economics:
“Utility is the subjective appraisement of the usefulness of a means towards end satisfaction. Nothing to do with emotions, happiness or satisfaction out there.”Needless to say, the idea that subjective utility has “[n]othing to do with emotions, happiness or satisfaction” in Austrian theory is so ignorant and wrong it is comical. I provided some quotations from Bob Murphy’s own published work refuting this, but apparently that is not enough (indeed it is “grossly unfair,” Bob Murphy complains, for me to quote passages of his work that refute vulgar Austrians!).
Well, we need only look at these passages in random works of Mises and Rothbard to see how they explicitly link subjective utility with the emotions or states of mind we call pleasure or happiness:
“If anyone believes that he can explain every human want, or every class of human wants constructed by him, by correlating with it a particular impulse, instinct, propensity, or feeling, then he is certainly not to be forbidden to do so. Not only do we not deny that men desire, want, and aim at different things, but we start precisely from this fact in our reflections. When science speaks of pleasure, happiness, utility, or wants, these signify nothing but what is desired, wished for, and aimed at, what men regard as ends and goals, what they lack, and what, if procured, satisfies them. These terms make no reference whatever to the concrete content of what is desired: the science is formal and neutral with regard to values. The one declaration of the science of ‘happiness’ is that it is purely subjective. In this declaration there is, therefore, room for all conceivable desires and wants. Consequently, no statement about the quality of the ends aimed at by men can in any way affect or undermine the correctness of our theory.” (Mises 2003: 59).This seems pretty clear to me, but not, I suppose, to the hordes of vulgar internet Austrians plaguing the internet.
“The modern concept of pleasure, happiness, utility, satisfaction and the like includes all human ends, regardless of whether the motives of action are moral or immoral, noble or ignoble, altruistic or egotistical.
In general men act only because they are not completely satisfied. Were they always to enjoy complete happiness, they would be without will, without desire, without action. In the land of the lotus-eaters there is no action. Action arises only from need, from dissatisfaction. It is purposeful striving towards something. Its ultimate end is always to get rid of a condition which is conceived to be deficient—to fulfil a need, to achieve satisfaction, to increase happiness.” (Mises 2009: 112–113).
“The natural law, then, elucidates what is best for man — what ends man should pursue that are most harmonious with, and best tend to fulfill, his nature. In a significant sense, then, natural law provides man with a ‘science of happiness,’ with the paths which will lead to his real happiness. In contrast, praxeology or economics, as well as the utilitarian philosophy with which this science has been closely allied, treat ‘happiness’ in the purely formal sense as the fulfillment of those ends which people happen — for whatever reason — to place high on their scales of value. Satisfaction of those ends yields to man his ‘utility’ or ‘satisfaction’ or ‘happiness.’ Value in the sense of valuation or utility is purely subjective, and decided by each individual.” (Rothbard 1998: 12).
Mises, Ludwig von. 2003. Epistemological Problems of Economics. Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala.
Mises, Ludwig von. 2009. Socialism. An Economic and Sociological Analysis. Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala. pp. 112–113.
Rothbard, M. N. 1998. The Ethics of Liberty. New York University Press, New York and London.