The Separation of Economics from Virtue: A Historical-Conceptual Introduction

Forthcoming in Economics and the Virtues: Building a New Moral Foundation Jennifer A. Baker and Mark D. White (eds),Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

18 Pages Posted: 18 May 2015

Date Written: May 12, 2015

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to explain what philosophical commitments drove mainstream professional economists to understand their own discipline as leaving no space for ethics (including virtue) between, say, 1887 and 1971. In particular, it is argued that economics embraced a technocratic conception of politics and science. Philosophers, too, embraced and continue to embrace a number of commitments about philosophy and science that entrench a sharp division of labor between philosophers and economics and that keep not just ethics, but virtue outside of economics. Many of these philosophers’ commitments were adopted by economists such that they could assume, in practice, that there is a self-sufficient a-political domain of pure economics. So, in effect, this paper explores the origin and nature of a conceptual split between economics and ethics.

There are two, subsidiary themes in my essay that are not fully worked out in it, but play a non-trivial role in the development that I sketch. First, I pay some attention to the role of so-called epistemic virtues that good economic inquirers need to possess in virtue of the split between economics and ethics. Second, the ways in which the expert scientist economist can (and cannot) assume to be agreeing with the values of the society she studies and hopes to advice as a policy scientist.

Keywords: ethics, economics, Sigdwick, Rawls, L. Robbins, G.J. Stigler, Milton Friedman, J.N. Keynes, positive and normative economics

JEL Classification: A11, A12, A13, B00, B20, B31, B40

Suggested Citation

Schliesser, Eric S., The Separation of Economics from Virtue: A Historical-Conceptual Introduction (May 12, 2015). Forthcoming in Economics and the Virtues: Building a New Moral Foundation Jennifer A. Baker and Mark D. White (eds),Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2605425

Eric S. Schliesser (Contact Author)

Ghent University ( email )

Philosophy and Moral Sciences
Blandijnberg 2
Ghent, 9000
Belgium

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