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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Economics as a moral science

by INGRID ROBEYNS on OCTOBER 31, 2013
The Crooked Timber

Here are some excerpts:

Why is it relevant now? In the lively discussion on what kind of science (or something else) economics is which is currently raging on the blogs, we should also consider the view of those who have argued that economics is a moral science. This, in Tony Atkinson’s words means that “Economists need to be more explicit about the relation between the welfare criteria and the objectives of government, policymakers and individual citizens”. Atkinson traces the expression back to Keynes, who had written in a letter that ‘economics is essentially a moral science’. More recent defenders of that view include Kenneth Boulding in his 1968 AEA presidential address, who defended the strong view that economics inherently depends on the acceptance of some values, and thus inherently has an ethical component.

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My view is this: economics shouldn’t aspire to be a value-free science, but an intellectual enterprise that combines elements from the sciences with elements from ‘the arts’ done in a manner that makes it value-commitments explicit. Values in economics have many sources. There are values involved in the choice of questions that are asked (and not asked). Value judgements are embedded in the normative principles (such as the Pareto-criterion) that are endorsed. Value judgments flow from the choices in how basic categories and notions are conceptualized (is ‘labour’ only what we do for pay, or also what we do to reproduce the human species?).

The entire post is here.
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