The paper analyzes the figure of William Thompson (1785-1833), a very eclectic intellectual. Thompson was in fact a philosopher, a social scientist, a social reformer, a defender of women’s rights, but, above all, a moral and radical economist precursor of Marx’s theory of surplus value. This forerunner intuition of some basic assumptions of marxian theory of value should not allow Thompson to be counted among Ricardian Socialists, the group to which he has erroneously led back by many scholars of economic doctrines. Thompson’s main research topic can be deduced from the title of his most important scientific work: “An Inquiry into The Principles of Distribution of Wealth most conducive to Human Happiness”. The paper shows that the search for the natural laws of distribution of wealth which can ensure the achievement of the greatest quantity of human happiness at his time, led Thompson to an original combination of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism, Robert Owen’s socialism, Adam Smith’s theory of value (not David Ricardo’s theory of value). This syncretism forced Thompson to take distance from Bentham on various topics (the concept of happiness like well-being and like a relational good and not like pleausure; the non-subordination of equality principle to safety principle); compelled Thompson to differentiate from Owen’s mutual co-operation in a more democratic, feminist and reformist direction; obliged Thompson to embrace a non-instrumental theory of value. At microeconomic level Thompson’s legacy can be found in the anticipation, inside his mutual co-operation social system, of Rochdale principles, which would later have been be the guiding principles of co-operative enterprises, integrated with the principle of public happiness, a Civil Economy notion.
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