Five Moral Philosophies on Economic Growth: Fundamental Perspectives on Assessing its Benefits and Costs

14 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2013  

Robert H. Nelson

University of Maryland - School of Public Policy

Date Written: January 4, 2013

Abstract

Most economists are absorbed with writing papers for journals and other audiences and with other routine tasks of their professional lives. They have little time for introspective reflection on the moral philosophical - indeed, often secular religious - foundations of economics; indeed, they may not even be aware that contemporary economics rests on such a powerful set of value assumptions. The large role of moral philosophy in the historical development and now the current practice of economics is thus mostly left implicit and disguised. This paper briefly traces five traditions in moral philosophy that have contributed importantly to shaping the implicit value system of current economics: (1) the moral philosophy of Adam Smith of a “divine harmony” of market forces; (2) the “atheistic” utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and other utilitarians; (3) the “worship” of perfect productive efficiency and the scientific management of society of August Comte and other French positivists; (4) the “faith” of Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes and other progressive economists that the abolition of economic scarcity will save the world; and (5) the newer anti-progressive, anti-economic messages of contemporary environmental religion. The paper shows how powerful values derived from these moral philosophies not only play a large implicit role in economic policy making but in ethically justifying the very use of the technical methods of economics itself. This paper was presented to a panel organized by the Association of Christian Economists at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in January 2013.

Suggested Citation

Nelson, Robert H., Five Moral Philosophies on Economic Growth: Fundamental Perspectives on Assessing its Benefits and Costs (January 4, 2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2211875 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2211875

Robert H. Nelson (Contact Author)

University of Maryland - School of Public Policy ( email )

College Park, MD 20742-1815
United States
301-405-6345 (Phone)
301-718-4377 (Fax)

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
410
rank
64,897
Abstract Views
2,291
PlumX