Melchiorre Gioja

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Melchiorre Gioja (September 10, 1767 - January 2, 1829), was an Italian philosopher, political economist, and statistician who played an important role in developing the use of statistical data as a tool in formulating political, social and economic policy. Born at Piacenza, Italy, he abandoned the priesthood to pursue the study of economics and a public life. In 1801, after Napoleon arrived in Italy, he was named historiographer and director of statistics under the Cisalpine Republic.

Believing that ideology, the science of the origin and development of ideas, should be founded on a purely descriptive examination of human mental processes, without any reference to the soul or spirit as a causal element, he seized upon the collection of statistical information as a means of describing and quantifying human experience. He identified a variety of “indicators” which could be observed and used as a mathematical measure of the state of society and the efficiency of governmental administration. Gioja advocated a unified Italy, state intervention in economic markets, and division of labor. His ethical system, based on the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, used statistical measurements to determine which actions were more “efficient” in achieving a desired goal. He developed a detailed calculation for the monetary value of an individual’s prdouctivity, and assigned value to non-material products such as art and music, as well as to the products of industry.


Melchiorre Gioja was born September 10, 1767, the son of an artisan in the provincial town of Piacenza, Italy. Originally intended for the church, he studied philosophy and theology and took orders, but renounced them in 1796 and went to Milan, where he devoted himself to the study of political economyand mathematics. That year he received recognition for winning a literary competition organized by the French-dominated government of Lombardy, on the topic, “Which form of free government is best adapted to the happiness of Italy?” Gioja’s response supported the idea of an Italian republic with a constitution modeled after the French constitution of 1795.

The arrival of Napoleon in Italy drew Gioja into public life. He advocated a republic under the dominion of the French in a pamphlet I Tedeschi, i Francesi, ed i Russi in Lombardia, and in 1801, was named historiographer and director of statistics under the Cisalpine Republic. He was imprisoned several times because of his support for a unified Italy. After the restoration of the Austrian government in Milan in 1820, he was arrested together with Silvio Pellico and Maroncelli on a charge of being implicated in a conspiracy with the Carbonari and imprisoned for eight months. After his release he remained under the suspicion of the Austrian government and does not appear to have held office again. He retired into private life and died January 2, 1829, in Milan.

Thought and Works

Melchiorre Gioja’s encyclopedic and versatile mind dealt with all the social problems of his time. He authored a variety of works, including books on etiquette (Nuovo Galateo, 1809), treatises on political economy and philosophy, and manuals on logic for young students. He also conducted important statistical studies. His chief works are il Trattato del merito e delle ricompense (Concerning Merit and Rewards, 1818–1819), Filosofia della statistica (Philosophy of Statistics, 1829–1830), Nuovo Prospetto delle sceinze economiche (New Perspective on Economic Science, 1815-1817, Milan), and l’Ideologia (1822).

Gioja’s works were written in the aftermath of the French Revolution, in the intellectual climate of an administrative bourgeoisie who rejected the political excesses of revolution but embraced its ideology and innovations. Gioja was active in the elaboration of statistics as an administrative science, which could be useful in the formation of political and economic policy by a bureaucratic state.

Philosophy and Ethics

Gioja believed that ideology, the science of the origin and development of ideas, should be founded on a purely descriptive examination of human mental processes, without any reference to the soul or spirit as a causal element. Completely in accord with the theories of John Locke and the “sensationism” of Condillac, he held that the mental formation of ideas was based on an aggregate of real physical sensations, but that the mind functioned in such a way that it also called up ideas from imagination. His bias towards the descriptive method, combined with his special interest in mathematics, led Gioja to regard statistics as an obvious tool for the collection and classification of facts, which could then be quantified according to the frequency with which they occurred. Gioja came to regard philosophy itself as the classification and consideration of ideas. He viewed logic as a practical art; his Esercizioni logici has the full title of,Art of deriving benefit from ill-constructed books.

Gioja showed a marked propensity for the mathematical morality of Jeremy Bentham, in which the pleasure and pain resulting from a particular action were measured and quantified in order to judge its success. Human choices could not be measured and recorded as precisely as occurrences in the physical sciences, but Gioja set out to identify “indicators” which could be used as a mathematical measure of the state of society and the efficiency of governmental administration.

Statistical Survey of the Kingdom of Italy

In 1808, in his capacity as director of statistics, he produced Tavole statistiche ossia norme per descrivere, calcolare, classificare, tutti gli ogetti d’admministrazione privata e pubblica (reprinted 1834, 1854), a plan for the creation of a complete statistical survey of the Kingdom of Italy. Its aim was to describe, calculate and classify all objects which could possibly be of interest to private and public administrators. Information to be collected included the “degree of the slope of the hills,” the age at which males and females began to have an inclination for marriage, the quantity of manure scattered on a hectare, the number of “bonnet-makers,” the number of mothers who argue with their daughters-in-law, and the number of foreigners In Italy who have no acquaintances and no means of support. Gioja intended to use statistics as a means of identifying the causes of variations in social phenomena, elements which affected the attitude and the well-being of society, and to locate physical sites where problems existed and where reforms could be instituted. Gioja was a strong advocate of the use of the tavole sinottiche (synoptic table) to compare and analyze information, and strove to rationalize debates about public policy by subjecting them to systematic empirical investigation and analysis.

If writers on civil and criminal law instead of collecting in a scattered way a few historical facts had exposed their resaoning in regular tables, and put in the vertical columns countries in similar circumstances, and I the horizontal columns the annual results… we would not have so many useless volumes, crude reasoners or stupid admirers (of authors mentioned later in the work) …Instead of oppressing me with authority, show me the table of the crimes takingplace before the application of your favorite principle, and of those taking place while this was being applied, and from the comparison of monthly and annual figures, I will be able to evalute its efficiency. (Tavole statistiche, p. xii, 1854 edition.)


Gioja’s own evaluation and analyis led him to conclusions of his own. In legal medicine, he is known for the “rule of the shoemaker,” the earliest calculation of compensation in monetary terms of the loss of physical function:

... un calzolaio, per esempio, eseguisce due scarpe e un quarto al giorno; voi avete indebolito la sua mano che non riesce più che a fare una scarpa; voi gli dovete dare il valore di una fattura di una scarpa e un quarto moltiplicato per il numero dei giorni che gli restano di vita, meno i giorni festivi ...

... a shoemaker, for example, produces two shoes and a quarter per day; you have weakened his hand so that he is now not able to make more than one shoe per day; you must compensate him to the value of an invoice for one shoe and a quarter, multiplied by the number of days of life that remain to the shoemaker, less the holidays ...

The long Nuovo Prospetto delle scienze economiche (1815-1817), full of classifications and tables, contains much valuable material. Gioja rejected Adam Smith’s theory that the market should be ruled by supply and demand, and defended a restrictive economic policy and the role of the state as a regulating power in the industrial world. He was an opponent of ecclesiastical domination. He favored division of labor within each industry as contributing to economic productivity, and preferred large properties and large commercial undertakings to small ones. Gioja also discussed the production and the value of immaterial goods, such as art, music and intellectual works.

Gioja’s large treatise Del merito e delle recompense (1818) was a clear and systematic view of utilitarian social ethics.

Gioja's latest work Filosofia della statistica (2 vols, 1826; 4 vols, 1829-1830) contains the essence of his ideas on human life, and illustrates his purposes and his methodology in both theoretical and practical philosophy.


The Statistics Bureau of Italy created by Gioja in 1807 was the second in Europe, preceded only by the one founded by Lucien Bonaparte in France in 1800. It disappeared shortly after the defeat of Napoleon, when Italy broke up into a number of individual states, but many of the small Italian states had their own census bureaus and continued the tradition of compiling and systematizing information about their citizens.

Melchiorre Gioja as a practical statistician, and Gian Domenico Romagnosi (1761-1835) as a theorist and philosopher, shaped the development of important intellectuals in Milan, such as Carlo Cattaneo, Pietro Maestri and Ceare Correntini who had an important role in the shaping of modern Italy. Gioja was one of the founders of the Annali universali di statistica.

Much of what Babbage taught later on the subject of combined work was anticipated by Gioja.

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