1. Economics is about ethicsUnderstood properly economics is an ethical science, an important branch of moral philosophy. For it concerns how to understand, manage and fulfil the heterogeneous and often conflicting values, interests, and capacities of large numbers of individuals operating within the constraints of limited resources. That system-level attention to the key aspects of heterogeneity, conflict, and scarcity should be a central concern of moral philosophy, but all too many moral philosophers are content to focus on the micro-level: identifying objects of intrinsic moral status e.g. friendship; or exploring particular kinds of relationships e.g. the nature of exploitation. Moral philosophy combines a high-minded concern for finding and testing the right abstract moral theory with an individualistic understanding of the phenomenology of morality as something akin to self-exploration and discovery. Society is surprisingly absent. This lacuna frequently leads moral philosophers to wish away or parenthesise (idealise) those aspects of heterogeneity, conflict and scarcity unavoidable in a moral community. Economists as social scientists have been thinking about this subject for a very long time, and have much of importance to say about it.For example, economists have addressed the centrality of scarcity by developing the concept of opportunity cost. Given scarce means you will not be able to do everything you want. For example, you may not be able to give $500 to the Somalia famine appeal and also take your long planned trip to visit your ailing grandmother. The cost of choosing one rather than the other is not the money. Money is not important: it merely represents your purchasing power constraints and only an idiot would try to acquire money for its own sake. Rather, the cost of choosing charity over filial piety is the full value (including the full ethical value) of the alternative you thereby give up. Moral philosophy rarely considers the full costs of actions in this broad sense and is the poorer for that.
18 de setembro de 2011
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