Hermann Gossen

photo neededIn human thermodynamics, Hermann Gossen (1810-1858) was a German economic theorist noted for his 1853 book The Development of the Laws of Human Exchange and the Consequent Rules of Human Action, an attempt at formulating a calculus of human pleasures, theorizing on how Kräfte (or forces) operated in the course of human economic exchanges, on the premise that the aim of each individual is to maximize his or her total life pleasure.

In later interpretations, Gossen's ideas on human kräfte, economic kräfte, or social kräfte, often have been mis-translated as human energy, economic energy, or social energy, although this is not technically correct. In any event, in this view, it sometimes argues that Gossen set out to explain how ‘human energies’ related to the laws of enjoyment, work, etc., using concepts such as economic energy and social energy, all discussed in the context of mediums of exchange, e.g. money. [1]

The general aim of the book, as stated in the preface, seems to be an effort to formulate the laws of human movement, similar to how Newton and Copernicus formulated the laws of celestial movement, in particular a type of national economics formulation, explained using mathematics, based on the principle that each person seeks to maximize his or her total amount of pleasure.

It sometimes incorrectly inferred that Gossen was the first to apply newly formulated thermodynamic ideas (or energetics) to economics. [4] This, however, seems to be an incorrect secondary interpretation. In particular, the work of Helmholtz and Clausius had only recently been published and Gossen's book was said to have been the result of twenty-years of thought; nor does Gossen cite any thermodynamicists (Helmholtz, Clausius, Joule, Mayer, etc.). In any event, to cite one example, American energy historian Anson Rabinbach claims that Gossen theorized about the 'conservation of social energy' and gives the following quote as representative of Gossen's ideas: [2]

“The totality of commodities over which a person disposes constitutes economic energy, his wealth, which devolves to the benefit of the social whole.”

Rabinbach also states that years later Leon Walras credited Gossen with having been the first to recognize the energy doctrine in the dynamics between the individual and the state. This credit may however again have been an incorrect secondary interpretation, as the conservation of energy or conservation of force, as was more dominant in Germany, were a fairly new subjects in 1853, especially for one such as Gossen, generally being outside of academic circles.

Gossen is cited by both Georg Helm, in his 1887 The Doctrine of Energy, and Leon Winiarski, in his 1900 “The Teaching of Pure Political Economics and Social Mechanics in Switzerland. Helm, in his final section on energetics applied in sociology and economics, specifically cites Gossen has having defined the value of a good as being its economic internal energy:

“Die wirtschaftliche Eigenenergie jedes Gutes aber nennt man Wert (Gossen) oder Nützlichkeit (Jevons).”“The economic internal energy of each good is called value (Gossen) or utility (Jevons).”

Gossen's work was also influential to Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, who commissioned the first English translation of his work (1983), in which he penned 143-page introduction. [5]

In 1829, Gossen entered the University of Bonn where he studied law and administration sciences; studying also philosophy, political economics, technology, science, and literature. The subject he was said to have excelled at was mathematics; later developing a conviction of the importance of the application of mathematical calculus to social problems. Gossen seems to have completed his university studies before 1834, after which he began working as in government jobs, such as clerk, in Cologne, a government assessor, in Magdeburg, and later an insurance agent. [3]

Human energies
The following is an excerpt of Gossen's book, wherein we see how the original use of the German term 'Krafte' (generally meaning force), becomes automatically translated as 'energy', although this is not exact translation, as the two have subtle differences.

Die theoretische Lösung der Aufgabe, wie viel von jedem Gegenstande zu produciren ist, damit die größtmöglichste Summe des Genusses für die ganze Menschheit erzeugt wird, hat nach allem Vorhergenden keine Schwierigkeit, Dieses Maximum tritt ein, wenn nach dem Austausch dem aufS. 85 gefundenen Satze Genüge geschieht, und außerdem die Production der verschiedenen Gegenstände der Art eingerichtet wird, daß dann das letzte Atom, welches einem jeden von jedem Gegenstande zufällt, im Verhältniß der Anstrengung beim Schaffen desselben den gleich großen Genuß gewahrt. Der Beweis für die Richtigkeit dieser Schlußfolgerung liegt darin, daß bei jeder andern Vertheilung der menschlichen Kräfte weniger Genuß und daher weniger Werlh geschaffen wird. Und nicht bloß, daß durch Erfüllung jener Bedingungen in Summa ein Größtes von Werth geschaffen wird, jeder Einzelne erhält dann genau denAntheil von dieser Summe, auf welchen er billiger Weise Anspruch machen kann. The theoretical solution of the problem, how much to produce of every object, so that the greatest possible amount of enjoyment for the whole of humanity has produced, occurs after all previous no difficulty in this maximum, if after the exchange again. 85 found enough proposition is happening and also the production of the various objects of the kind will be established that will maintain the last atom, which falls every one of every object in the same proportion of the effort in creating the equal pleasure. The proof of the correctness of this conclusion is that in every other division of human energies less enjoyment, and therefore creates less Werlh. And not only that is created by fulfilling those conditions, in short, one of largest value, then each individual receives exactly denAntheil from this sum to which he can make a fair claim.

1. (a) Gossen, Hermann. (1853). Die Entwicklung der Gesetze des menschlichen Verkehrs: und der daraus fließenden Regeln für menschliches Handeln (Kräfte, 40+ pgs). F. Vieweg.
(b) Gossen, Hermann. (1983). The Laws of Human Relations and the Rules of Human Action Derived Therefrom. MIT Press.
2. Rabinbach, Anson. (1990). The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity (pgs. 70-71). Basic Books.
3. Kraus, Oskar. (1910). “Gossen, Hermann Heinrich” (German → English) General German Biography, 55: 483-88.
4. Wallace, Thomas P. (2009). Wealth, Energy, and Human Values: the Dynamics of Decaying Civilizations from Ancient Greece to America (pgs. 104-05). AuthorHouse.
5. Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas, Mayumi, Kozo, and Gowdy, John, M. (1999). Bioeconomics and Sustainability (section: Ahead of his Time, pgs. 78-79). Edward Elgar Publishing.

External links
‚óŹ Hermann Heinrich Gossen – Wikipedia.

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