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Edgeworth's Propositions on Altruism

Author(s): David Collard

Source: The Economic Journal, Vol. 85, No. 338 (Jun., 1975), pp. 355-360
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Royal Economic Society
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I FIND it a little surprising that recent contributors' to the theory of

altruistic behaviour have paid scant attention to some fundamental contributions by Edgeworth.2 Consequently, this paper attempts to set out these
propositions and to put minor glosses upon them. It will be convenient to refer
to them, though Edgeworth himself did not, as the shrinkingand non-twisting
The following are among the relevant passages from MathematicalPsychics:
"between the frozen pole of egoism and the tropical expanse of utilitarianism [there is] ... the position of one for whom in a calm moment his
neighbour's utility compared with his own neither counts for nothing,
nor 'counts for one', but counts for a fraction. We must modify the
utilitarian integral by multiplying each pleasure, except the pleasures of
the agent himself, by a fraction-a factor doubtless diminishing with what
may be called the social distance between the individual agent and those
of whose pleasures he takes account." (Appendix IV, " On Mixed Modes
of Utilitarianism.")
" between the two extremes of Pure Egoistic and Pure Universalistic there
may be an indefinite number of impure methods; wherein the happiness
of others as compared by the agent (in a calm moment) with his own,
neither counts for nothing, nor [misprinted as ' not '] yet ' counts for one',
but countsfor afraction." (P. 16.)

We know that Edgeworth thought highly of Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics

and these passages stand squarely in the tradition of what might be termed
positive utilitarianism;they assert that people do, indeed, attach weights to the
utilities of others. But Edgeworth also asserted, with John Stuart Mill, a
normativeutilitarianismsuch that each would count for one. Thus:
"The whole creation groans and yearns, desiderating a principle of
arbitration, and end of strife." (P. 51.)
" the utilitarian settlement may be selected, in the absence of any other
principle of selection, in virtue of its moral peculiarities: its satisfying the
Sympathy (such as it is) of each with all, the sense ofjustice and utilitarian
equity." (Pp. 53-4.)
The fascinating aspect of Edgeworth's treatment is that these high themes
were integrated into contract and exchange theory at its inception:
1 See, for example, H. Frisch, "Die Contraktkurve bei Interdependenzen im Konsum," Kyklos,
Vol. XXIV (1971), pp. 644-59; L. D. Schall, "Interdependent Utilities and Pareto Optimality,"
QuarterlyJournal of Economics,1972, pp. 19-24; R. H. Scott, "Avarice, Altruism and Second Party
Preferences," QuarterlyJournalof Economics,1972, pp. 1-18.
2 F. Y. Edgeworth, Mathematical
Psychics(1881, L.S.E. Reprint 1934).

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"we might suppose that the object which X (whose own utility is P),
tends-in a calm, effective moment- to maximise, is not P, but P + All;
where A is a coefficientof efective sympathy[Edgeworth's italics]. And similarly Y-not of course while rushing to self-gratification, but in those
regnant moments which characterise an ethical ' method '-may propose
to himself as end 11+ ,tP. What, then, will be the contract curve of these
modified contractors? The old contractcurvebetweennarrowerlimits [Edgeworth's italics] ... As the coefficients of sympathy increase, utilitarianism
becomes more pure, the contractcurvenarrowsdown to the utilitarianpoint."
(P. 53, n. 1.)


FIG. 1

Consider as Edgeworth does, the indifference curves as two sets of concentric

circles (in which case the contract curve is a straight line):
"The contract curve is easily seen to be the line joining the centres.
Supposing that the distance between the centres is less than the less of the
radii, part of the contract curve is impure.If the index, as Mr. Marshall
might call it, be placed anywhere in this portion it will run up to a centre.
But between the centres the contract curve is pure; the index placed anywhere in this portion is immovable.. ." (P. 25.)
Edgeworth proceeds to a more general algebraic statement:
"it appears that the pure and impure parts of the contract curve are
demarcated by the points where DP/D H changes sign, that is (in general)
where either DP/dor or D I/dc (do being an increment of the length of the
contract curve) either vanishes or becomes infinite. Accordingly the
maximum and minimum of P and rl present demarcating points."
(Pp. 25-6.)
Two propositions may be separated out:
(1) The locus of the contract curve is unaffected by the presence of A and It
(the non-twisting theorem).
(2) The contract curve, or range of core outcomes, shrinks as A and ,t
increase (the shrinking theorem).

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(2 a) The curve shrinks to a single point, the utilitarian point, when




They are illustrated in the accompanying Edgeworth Box diagram, Fig. 1.

(Edgeworth did not himself make this construction.)1 It is convenient to
change Edgeworth's notation. Hence the two individuals are A and B and the
two goods X and Y. The continuous indifference curves are of the ordinary
" selfish " type while the dotted curves assume specific values of A and ,t between
zero and unity. Given these weights the points a and b represent maximum
utility for A and B respectively. The range of the contract curve between a and
b is pure and the remainder impure.2

Is the non-twisting theorem true? It is intuitively clear that non-twisting
has something to do with the assumption that weights are attached to the
utilities of others, not to specific goods in their bundles. That is to say, there is
nothing paternalistic in Edgeworth's benevolence. One is indifferent as to
whether the other's enjoyment (utility given) is worthy or unworthy. But it
turns out that this assumption is a sufficient though not a necessary condition.
In the two-person case goods are allocated either to one person or the other
so that dXBldxA =-1.
Then the general condition for Pareto-optimality with
interdependent utility is






In Edgeworth's case



where A and ,u are the altruistic weights.

Substituting these, (1) reduces to the familiar condition




Thus Edgeworth's statement of his non-twisting theorem is correct. But does

it generalise?
Returning to equation (1) write
auA/axA- auA/axB,





I I have benefited from correspondence with WilliamJaffe on this and, indeed, on what he calls
"the mysteries of Edgeworth's idosyncratic modes of mathematical expression".
Frisch (op. cit.) similarly distinguishes between the "Kooperations-Kurve" and the "Konflictkurve ".

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Then (1) reduces to (2) if

SAx/SAy = SBxISBy)

a condition which may be defined as proportionate sympathy.' When this

condition does not hold the selfish and altruistic loci will differ; the contract
curve will have twisted.2

Edgeworth's propositions (2) and (2 a) will now be considered together.
The first point to notice is that the weights A and It are not adjusted to take
account of relative incomes but, rather, each actor has sufficient sympathy to
perceive the other's increasing marginal utility as his bundle of goods
Presumably B's marginal utility becomes very high indeed with small
bundles so that A's point of maximum utility (a) will definitely move to the
south-west as A increases. Under these assumptions the pure contractcurvewill
definitely shrink as both A and ,t increase.
Proposition (2 a) says that a and b will coincide when A = It = 1. It is easy
to show that this is correct. More interestingly they will coincide whenever
A, = 1. That is there will be a perfect consensusnot only when A and B behave
utilitarianly but whenever the one's weak altruism is offset by the strong
altruism of the other.
To show this consider, as did Edgeworth, an index (o) of the contract curve
(O < o < 1) from A's origin. Let the two individuals experience direct
(hedonistic) utilities but also some concern for one another, as follows:




VB = UB(1-O) +tUA(UA

Now let o* be a point of complete agreement or consensus. Then


-Ad d8B/do-* -

-duB/do* + duB/do-* = 0


From which3
A#u= 1


The same result may be achieved rather more simply by considering the
matrix of weights:
1 For a similar treatment in a different context see A. K. Sen, "Labour Allocation in a Cooperative Enterprise," Reviewof EconomicStudies,Vol. XXXIII (4), Oct. 1966, pp. 361-71.
2 In which case Pareto-optimal redistribution can no longer be restricted to general purchasing
power but may require redistribution in kind.
3 SeeJ. de V. Graaff's formula (15) in his appendix to chapter iv of TheoreticalWelfareEconomics
(Cambridge, 1957) for the slope of the utility possibility curve. The careful reader will notice, by the
way, that the formula is slightly misprinted. With perfect consensus there will be no downward
sloping portion of the utility possibility curve. If one inserts Edgeworth's notation into de Graaff's
formula one obtains, for consensus, (1 -AA) (au lax) = 0. That is, either AAt= 1 or "satiation".

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By A
y B





A and B may be said to use identical social weights whenever one row is simply
a multiple of the other.1 As we have constrained the diagonal weights to unity
the condition Alt = 1 follows immediately.

FIG. 2

Edgeworth's proposition (2 a) may therefore be generalised in a simple

(2 a') For any consensus (o *) there exists a set of supporting weights A*, It *
where A*u * = 1. The special utilitarian consensus (C) is supported
by A = It = 1. The dual to this theorem is that for any set of supporting weights A* Iu*, where A*,u* = 1 there exists a consensus
( *)
Such consensus points would be reached only by a remarkable fluke. But
as long as A, It = 0 there will be a consensus range (the pure contract curve).
Redistribution from points outside the range will make bothparties better off,
i.e. there will be scope for so-called " Pareto-optimal " redistribution. But there
will be no guarantee, of course, that actual weights will be such as to support
any prescribed consensus range.
In the last section it was suggested that Edgeworth's proposition (2 a) may
be taken as a special case of a consensustheorem.Edgeworth did not go on to
consider what would happen should A and B be "excessively" altruistic
(A,j > 1). Point a would then lie to the south-west of point b. Apparently each
1 The two social welfare functions are then essentially identical. I am grateful to Stan Katz and
Maurice McManus for discussion on this and the more general n person case.

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[JUNE 1975]

would reach an optimal bundle before the total was exhausted. Hence the
economic problem has disappeared. I am tempted to call this the vanishing
theorem.1But the situation should not be confused with satiety proper as it
remains the case that each would truly like more goods were it not for the fact
that he would thereby deprive the other. It would be open to them to cleave
the knot by accepting some arbitrary rule to allocate whatever is " left-over ".*2
In terms of the diagram the range a-b is still the pure contract curve (points
on it are better than points off it) and allocations to the south-west of a or
north-east of b will not be sustained. However, the situation is the reverse of
the usual one in that each would prefer the otherto have more.
Summaryand Conclusions
I have suggested that two theorems, the " non-twisting " and " shrinking"
theorems, are to be found in Edgeworth's analysis of altruism and are correct
on his assumptions. Additionally his remarks about the "utilitarian point"
may be generalised into a " consensus " theorem and into a " vanishing"
theorem when altruism is excessive.

University of Bristol.
Date of receiptoffinal typescript: October1974.
1 It is as thoughboth parties were sated. Thus David Hume in a brilliant passage: " [the poets]
easily perceived, if every man had a tender regard to another, or if nature supplied abundantly all
our needs and desires, that the jealousy of interest, which justice supposes, could no longer have
place ... encreaseto a sufficientdegreethe benevolence
of men, or the bountyof nature,and you renderjustice
useless" (Treatise (my italics)).
2 Another possibility, as a referee has pointed out, is that the parties revise their expectations
about scarcity. Each would perceive that dxildxj was zero, not - 1, and points like "a" would be
adjusted upwards until the resource constraint again became tight.

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