Ethics and Economics: Special issue of European Journal of Political Economy
The bright side of lex talionis

Kantian Ethics and Economics: Autonomy, Dignity, and Character

Mark D. White

KEE I am happy to announce that my forthcoming book from Stanford University Press, Kantian Ethics and Economics: Autonomy, Dignity, and Character, is now available for pre-order.

I plan to blog a lot more about this book as the May 2011 publication date approaches, but for now I'll just offer the summary and the very humbling endorsements:

This book introduces the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant—in particular, the concepts of autonomy, dignity, and character—to economic theory, explaining the importance of integrating these two streams of intellectual thought. Mainstream economics is rooted in classical utilitarianism, recommending that decision makers choose the options that are expected to generate the largest net benefits. For individuals, the standard economic model fails to incorporate the role of principles in decision-making, and also denies the possibility of true choice, which can be independent of preferences and principles altogether. For policymakers, standard decision-making frameworks recommend tradeoffs that are beneficial in terms of material goods or wealth, but may be morally questionable from a more person-centered perspective.

Integrating Kantian ethics affects economics in three important ways. This integration allows for a more complete understanding of human choice, incorporating not just preferences and constraints, but also principles and strength of will or character. It demonstrates the broader impact of welfare economics, which generates policies that affect not only persons' well-being, but also their dignity and autonomy. Finally, it reconciles the traditional, individualist stance in economic models of choice with the social responsibility emphasized by many systems of philosophical ethics and heterodox schools of economics.

"This book makes an original and valuable contribution by introducing the philosophy of Kant and the concepts of autonomy, dignity, and character into economics. Mark White is to be complemented for raising fundamentally important questions about economics' theory of choice. The book will be a landmark in social economics."—John B. Davis, University of Amsterdam and Marquette University

"Relentlessly utilitarian and procedurally-detached, economic man takes no account of the duty to treat morally equivalent persons impartially. In contrast, the decision environment contemplated by Professor White's Kantian agent is congenial to the cultivation of respect for the moral law. The implications for social interaction and for public policy are profound. A must read!"—Timothy Roth, Department of Economics & Finance, The University of Texas at El Paso

"For too long it was almost universally thought that utility theory, and so economics, was intrinsically and solely about means/end rationality and achieving the best consequences. Principled action, it was agreed, could not be integrated into formal decision theory and economics. Mark White's wonderful and important book shows this to be a fundamental error. White's Kantian ethics opens a much richer, and far more adequate, normative analysis to economics, freeing economics from an impoverished view of humans and ethics. White holds out to us the promise of an economics as a science of human dignity and autonomy."—Gerald Gaus, James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Program in Philosophy, Politics, Economics & Law, University of Arizona


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Excellent news. Can't wait to read it!

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