Do Economists Need Virtues?

29 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2014

See all articles by David Lipka

David Lipka

Anglo-American University; International Centre for Economic Research (ICER)

Date Written: June 12, 2014


In many works Deirdre McCloskey criticizes professional economics for ignoring virtues. Even though I disagree with details of her analysis I concur with her general conclusions. In the paper I sketch my own perspective on how economists could profit from the virtue discourse as developed by Adam Smith. My argument is intended for economists who believe economics is about implications of individual choice. I distinguish behaviorist and mentalist interpretation and criticize the former. We all should be mentalists and admit the existence of the problem of interpretation. I briefly discuss neuroeconomics and evolutionary psychology as theories of interpretation and show that moral psychology can be viewed as one in morally relevant situations. I read Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments as an important contribution to the moral psychology. I outline the Smithian system and show what economists can learn from it. They can improve their interpretive skills but also cultivate their general outlook of the world by understanding how knowledge of the market process shapes interpretation of the choice problem. Their general outlook can do better provided that it is balanced with the complete array of virtues. If not it may provide a distorted picture of reality.

Suggested Citation

Lipka, David, Do Economists Need Virtues? (June 12, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

David Lipka (Contact Author)

Anglo-American University ( email )

Lazenska 4
11800 Praha 1
Prague 1, 11800
Czech Republic

International Centre for Economic Research (ICER) ( email )

Villa Gualino
Viale Settimio Severo, 63
10133 Torino

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics