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Why Economics Is a Moral Science

Part of the Virtues and Economics book series (VIEC,volume 1)


The paper argues that the attempt to relocate economics from the domain of the moral sciences to one closer to that of the natural sciences necessarily meant that free will, intentionality and moral judgment were excluded from its purview. However, the resulting surrogate reality has proven to be less than satisfactory because economic life is simultaneously about what should be as well as what is. Because economic life is lived with a purpose in mind, economic ‘facts’ are interwoven with intentionality.

Attempts to reconstruct economics as a moral science show how utility calculations and moral considerations co-determine the behavior of economic agent s, and throw light on the deep connection between virtue ethics and all levels of economic activity as well as the deleterious consequences when that connection is impaired or severed.

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  1. 1.

    Robbins , L. “An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science” p. 15.

  2. 2.

    The phrase in the title of Philip Pettit”s important book, Made with Words, Hobbes on Language, Mind and Politics (2008) Princeton University Press.

  3. 3.

    Letter to Roy Harrod, of 10 July, 1938 (misdated 16 July) in Collected Letters of John Meynard Keynes.

  4. 4.

    Walras, L. (1926) Elements d’Economie Politique Pure ou Theorie de la richesse sociale translated as Elements of Pure Economics or the Theory of Social Wealth (1954) George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London, p. 71.

  5. 5.

    For a detailed explanation of the concept of reflexivity and the causal circularity it generates, see Soros, G. (1987) The Alchemy of Finance, Wiley.

  6. 6.

    The question was first raised by Joan Robinson in her essay “What is Capital?” Solow’s answer – that capital can be defined in service hours – as Solow himself subsequently acknowledged –, does not work.

  7. 7.

    The terms ‘practical knowledge ’ and ‘practical reason’ are largely interchangeable, although Aristotelian and Thomist inspired thought tends to use the former, while Kantians seem to prefer the latter. The former tends to base practical knowledge on internal normativity as a given human capacity, while the latter places greater emphasis on the connection between ‘practical reason’ and rationality .

  8. 8.

    Putnam, H The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy.

  9. 9.

    For a contrary view see, for example, Kincaid, H. (1996) Philosophical Foundations of the Social Sciences, Cambridge University Press.

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Correspondence to Peter Rona .

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Rona, P. (2017). Why Economics Is a Moral Science. In: Rona, P., Zsolnai, L. (eds) Economics as a Moral Science. Virtues and Economics, vol 1. Springer, Cham.

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