Research Article

Beccaria's Luxury of Comfort and Happiness of the Greatest Number


a1 Simon Fraser University ccamcast@sfu.ca


Section I explores and articulates Beccaria's theory of luxury. Social classes tend to emulate the classes immediately above and below them. When a class increases the luxury that it consumes, this causes a chain reaction of increased demand for luxury by other classes. Satisfying the resulting new demand for luxury and non-luxury goods maximizes the happiness of a greater number of citizens. Following the consequentialist principle of utility theory, Beccaria concludes that luxury is beneficial. His writings are compared to those of Hume, Bentham and others. In section II Beccaria's demonstration that freedom of choice is a universally desired luxury indispensable for well-being in all human societies is contrasted to Rousseau's belief that luxury diminishes liberty and happiness. Beccaria values the distributive more than the aggregative maximization of utility in his analysis of luxury; the article explains why this carries wider implications for utilitarian theory.