Ethics

Postdoctoral Fellow in Economic and Environmental Ethics at University of Gothenburg

GothenburgBy Mark D. White

Thanks to Christian Munthe, we have a fantastic announcement for postdocs in economic and environmental ethics at the University of Gothenburg. From the posting:

The University of Gothenburg tackles society’s challenges with diverse knowledge. 56 000 students and 6 600 employees make the university a large and inspiring place to work and study. Strong research and attractive study programmes attract scientists and students from around the world. With new knowledge and new perspectives, the University contributes to a better future.

The University of Gothenburg is looking to hire one or more 2-year post docs in the intersection of economic and environmental ethics. Economic ethics is the application of moral or political philosophy to critical issues in business organizations or the economic system. Environmental ethics is the application of moral or political philosophy to critical issues in the relationship between humans and non-human environmental systems. The research area should be understood broadly so as to include subtopics like business ethics, the political philosophy of financial markets, ethics of commodification, ethics of climate change, ethics of biodiversity, environmental philosophy and the philosophy of (environmental) economics. Any applications related to these subfields are welcome.

Potential research questions in these fields include the following:

    • What moral duties, if any, do commercial firms have to mitigate climate change?
    • Do consumers have a duty to invest in sustainable firms?
    • Is sustainability an irreducible moral value?
    • Can environmental values (such as biodiversity) be expressed in monetary terms?
    • Do advantaged nations have duties to promote sustainability in vulnerable nations?
    • Is the state justified in coercing financial markets towards sustainability?

The post doc will join the Financial Ethics Research Group which consists of philosophers and economists dedicated to ethical and political issues raised by the financial system (in the broadest sense). More specifically, the post doc will be connected to the research program Sustainable Finance Lab, which is a collaboration between several Swedish universities that is funded by Vinnova, Sweden’s innovation agency. Additional funding is due to the University of Gothenburg, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation, and the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra).

More details are available here.


Oisin Suttle on "The Puzzle of Competitive Fairness"

Ppe coverBy Mark D. White

Forthcoming in Politics, Philosophy & Economics but currently available online (and open access) is "The Puzzle of Competitive Fairness" by Oisin Suttle (Maynooth University), exploring common intuitions about the concept of fairness as it applies to markets. (I find this very welcome, as the vague use of this concept in economics was one of the frustrations that drew me into economics-and-ethics in the first place.)

From the abstract:

There is a sense of fairness that is distinctive of markets. This is fairness among economic competitors, competitive fairness. We regularly make judgments of competitive fairness about market participants, public policies and institutions. However, it is not clear to what these judgments refer, or what moral significance they have. This paper offers a rational reconstruction of competitive fairness in terms of non-domination. It first identifies competitive fairness as a distinctive claim, advanced within markets in turn characterized as antagonistic, instrumental and procedural. It distinguishes competitive fairness from a number of familiar ideals with which it might be confused: legitimate expectation, equality of opportunity, sporting fairness and economic efficiency. While many exponents likely assume competitive fairness can be explained in terms of one of these ideals, in each case there are significant objections to doing so. Instead, the paper argues that the most promising justification of competitive fairness is under the republican ideal of non-domination, which can reconstruct many of the intuitive judgments of competitive fairness that we make in particular cases. However, it concludes, this explanation makes it difficult for exponents to continue to emphasize competitive fairness, given diverse other risks of domination, and to other values, in markets.

Extra points for using Ronald Dworkin's methodology of fit and justification. From Suttle's introduction:

My method throughout is interpretive, in the sense advanced by Ronald Dworkin (Law's Empire: Ch. 2). We begin with a pre-theoretical account of a practice, identifying this inter alia through a number of paradigm instances. We next ask whether there is a principle or set of principles that could both explain and justify the practice, so conceived. To be successful, the required principles must both account for prominent features of the practice, and explain the value realized thereby. We can then return to our paradigm instances, and to any unclear or marginal cases, reassessing these based on our new, principled, understanding of the nature and function of the practice under examination.


Ethics for Economics and for Economists

Dolfsma-Negru bookGuest post by Wilfred Dolfsma and Ioana Negru

Comes the next economic crisis, comes the next call for economics to become both more realistic and to be more ethical. While the two are related, in The Ethical Formation of Economists (Dolfsma and Negru 2019) we focus on the vexing issue of the way in which ethics and economics relate: Why is the call not answered?

Many, especially heterodox economists, blame economic theory: It does not have conceptual space for ethics. This is a call for ethics in economics (Figure 1). That, in some way, is correct, but in a strict sense it is not: Only one form of ethics is consistent with (mainstream) economics, and that is utilitarianism. The call for economics to make conceptual space for ethics is a call for (one of) the other two broad perspectives in ethics to be given a place: deontology and communitarian ethics. Most of discussions on ethics and its consequences in mainstream economics are situated within the area of welfare economics, despite the ethical implications of most economic theories endorsed by various groups of economists. There is indeed a need for more of an ethics of economics (Figure 1).

What motivates the call for (more) ethics in economics is the seemingly lack of interest among economists for the consequences of either the economic vagaries that men go through as consequences of economic crises, or even the consequences of the advice given about economic policies provided by economists. The conclusion drawn from this by many is that economics ducks its ethical responsibilities: There is an ethics of economics that is denied (by economists) (Figure 1). Yacintas (2020) argues that economists do not display sufficient attention to the fact that economic ethics is part of scientific ethics also and these principles should be part of economist’s methodology and epistemology, to inform how economists build knowledge.

Indeed, there is a small group of economists that looks at the ethical stance that economists take: distinctly utilitarian and dismissive of people’s deontological rights or the ethical norms that emerge and develop in a community. Does economic theory as taught at colleges make economists selfish (i.e., considering utilitarian arguments only), or are selfish individuals drawn into economics? Or both? (Cf. Frank et al 1993.)

Dolfsma-Negru Figure 1

What this discussion does not touch upon is what is the key contribution of this volume of contributions: How are economists actually formed, ethically? How does an ethics of economists take shape? This obviously happens in class, but also later in their careers, for instance when doing research or when informing the larger audience about findings (through media, with their own specific working [cf. McCarthy and Dolfsma 2014]).

A related question is whether economists can be trained ethically or if learning ethics can take place naturally and in an evolutionary and behavioural way, influenced by the life and career pathways economists have? This is an essential question: In our book, DeMartino (2019) argues that the postgraduate curriculum must contain modules on ethics in economics, and McCloskey (2019) states that the ethical behaviour starts early on, in the education of children and young people, that can then evolve later in their careers.  

For us, the essential issue is whether economists can be trained, at all levels (undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral), in scientific ethical principles through various modules, such as courses on ethics in economics and economic policy-making, and also scientific ethics taught in courses in research methods. This will raise the awareness of thinking ethically when suggesting economic policies and the appropriate responsibility that comes with policy advice. Re-introducing courses of ethics in economics would be a progressive step towards training and forming ethical economists.

References:

Dolfsma, W., and I. Negru, eds. (2019) The Ethical Formation of Economists. London and New York: Routledge.

DeMartino, G. (2019) "Training the Ethical Economist," in W. Dolfsma and I. Negru (eds) The Ethical Formation of Economists. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 7-23.

Frank, R.H., T. Gilovich, and D.T. Regan (1993) “Does Studying Economics Inhibit Cooperation?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 7: 159-171.

McCarthy, K.J., and W. Dolfsma (2014) "Neutral Media? Evidence of Media Bias, and Its Economic Impact.” Review of Social Economy 72: 42-54.

McCloskey, D.N. (2019) "Conclusion: Raising Up Private Max U," in W. Dolfsma and I. Negru (eds) The Ethical Formation of Economists. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 164-183.

Yacintas, A. (2020) "Why Is Economics Not Part of a System of Scientific Ethics? A Review Essay on Wilfred Dolfsma and Ioana Negru’s The Ethical Formation of Economists." The Journal of Philosophical Economics: Reflections on Economic and Social Issues XIII(2): 202-214.

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Wilfred Dolfsma: Wageningen University, Netherlands

Ioana Negru: University Lucian Blaga of Sibiu, Faculty of Economic Sciences, Sibiu, Romania


Forthcoming book: Laurent Dobuzinskis, Moral Discourse in the History of Economic Thought (Routledge)

Moral discourseBy Mark D. White

Out this summer from Routledge is Moral Discourse in the History of Economic Thought by Laurent Dobuzinskis (Simon Fraser University).

From the publisher's website:

Providing an account of the development of economic thought, this book explores the extent to which economic ideas are rooted in moral values.

Adopting an approach rooted in ‘pragmatism’, the work explores key questions which have been considered by economists since the classical political economists. These include: what degree of priority ought to be granted to property rights among all individual liberties; whether uncertainties in economic life justify investing political authorities with the power to stabilize business cycles; whether it is better to trust entrepreneurial initiatives to resolve societal dilemmas or to centralize policy-making in the hands of a benevolent government. The chapters argue that economic thought has evolved from an emphasis on "sympathy" (as defined by Adam Smith) and that there has more recently been a rediscovery of the significance of sympathy reinvented as "fair reciprocity" in the wake of the emergence of behavioural economics and its connection to evolutionary psychology.

This key book is of great interest to readers in the history of ideas, political and moral philosophy, and political economy.


Survey on the Ethics of "Environmental Markets" in Journal of Political Philosophy

J pol philBy Mark D. White

In the latest issue of the Journal of Political Philosophy (30/1, March  2022) is an open-access survey article by Stijn Neuteleers (Open University, The Netherlands) titled "Trading Nature: When Are Environmental Markets (Un)desirable?"

From the introduction:

This article will discuss two new environmental markets in particular: carbon markets and biodiversity offsetting. It has an applied and a general goal. The applied goal is straightforward: examining the respective moral desirability of these two markets. The broader goal is to use these two cases to review the main arguments for and against environmental markets and to offer more nuance in the debate. The cases are chosen in order to show that the positions at each end of the spectrum—that all new environmental markets are morally acceptable and that none of them is—are untenable. (p. 118)

In the conclusion, Neuteleers making an excellent point that applies to much more than environmental justice:

Sometimes nature has a value that cannot or should not be captured by market instruments. This special value can be either moral—for instance, the extreme rarity of certain species or ecosystems—or more socio-cultural—people can attach strong meanings to such nature (relational values). For instance, if families have worked in a certain natural environment for decades, these surroundings become part of their identity. Losing such a place can be a significant loss, at both an individual and a community level. In such cases, impersonal market norms conflict with the ‘personal’ nature of the goods at stake—here, nature becomes, in a sense, a ‘personal good’.

How should we deal with such special value? If nature is extremely valuable, either for ecological or socio-cultural reasons, it should be left untouched and not open for compensation. Regulations can take care of this, markets cannot. Nonetheless, sometimes destruction of nature can be unavoidable or acceptable. If so, the policy instrument should still recognize the special value nature has; the loss should be framed as a wrong rather than as a transaction. Such framing cannot be provided by the market. (p. 136)

Or by mainstream economics, for that matter (as seen as the discussion of crime in law and economics, for instance).


New issue of Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics (Winter 2021)

Erasmus journalBy Mark D. White

A new issue of the Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics was recently published (open-access), and as usual it contains quite a few articles of interest to this blog.

The entire table of contents can be found at the link above, so here I'll simply point out the opening three articles...

"Choosing Less over More Money The Love of Praiseworthiness and the Dread of Blameworthiness in One-Player Games" by Nina Serdarevic

"Social Contract, Extended Goodness, and Moral Disagreement," by Cyril Hédoin

"Integrated Moral Agency and the Practical Phenomenon of Moral Diversity," by Michael Moehler

...as well as the symposium on identity in economics (by Jean-Paul Carvalho, John B. Davis, and others) and a fantastic interview with Ian Carter (A Measure of Freedom).


Recent work on the issue of corporate personhood

Corporate personhoodBy Mark D. White

Forthcoming in Law and Society Review is David Gindis' review of Susanna Kim Ripken's book Corporate Personhood, both of which emphasize the complexity of the concept itself, wrapped up as it is in economics and ethics as well as law, political science, and sociology. From Gindis' abstract:

Susanna Ripken is an astute and fair-minded observer of today's corporate personality controversy. The premise of her impressive book is that the corporate personhood puzzle is as complicated as it is vexing because corporate personhood is inherently multidimensional, in a way that mirrors the fact that the corporation is at the same time an economic institution, a legal actor, a cultural artifact, and a political operator, whose actions can be morally praised or condemned. To produce a comprehensive picture of the corporation we need to weave together the different facets highlighted by economics, law, sociology, political science, philosophy, ethics, and other disciplines. So too must we proceed, Ripken persuasively argues, when dealing with corporate personhood. No single discipline is in a position to answer all the important questions corporate personhood raises. An interdisciplinary conversation is required.

The abstract for Ripken's book itself follows:

The topic of corporate personhood has captured the attention of many who are concerned about the increasing presence, power, and influence of corporations in modern society. Recent Supreme Court cases like Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, and Masterpiece Cakeshop - which solidified the free speech and religious liberty rights of corporations and their owners - have heightened the controversy over treating corporations as persons under the law. What does it mean to say that the corporation is a person, and why does it matter? In Corporate Personhood, Susanna Kim Ripken addresses these questions and highlights the complexity of the corporate personhood concept. Using a broad, interdisciplinary framework - incorporating law, economics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, organizational theory, political science, and linguistics - this highly original work explores the complex, multidimensional nature of corporate personhood and its implications for corporate rights and duties.

Readers may also be interested in a recent paper by David Gindis and Abraham Singer titled "The Corporate Baby in the Bathwater: Why Proposals to Abolish Corporate Personhood Are Misguided," forthcoming in Journal of Business Ethics:

The fear that business corporations have claimed unwarranted constitutional protections which have entrenched corporate power has produced a broad social movement demanding that constitutional rights be restricted to human beings and corporate personhood be abolished. We develop a critique of these proposals organized around the three salient rationales we identify in the accompanying narrative, which we argue reflect a narrow focus on large business corporations, a misunderstanding of the legal concept of personhood, and a failure to distinguish different kinds of constitutional rights and the reasons for assigning them. Corporate personhood and corporate constitutional rights are not problematic per se once these notions are decoupled from biological, metaphysical or moral considerations. The real challenge is that we need a principled way of thinking about the priority of human over corporate persons which does not reduce the efficacy of corporate institutions or harm liberal democracies.


Alexandrova and Fabian on the challenge of thick concepts for science

Eur jrnl phil scienceBy Mark D. White

An article forthcoming in the European Journal for Philosophy of Science by Anna Alexandrova and Mark Fabian, titled "Democratising Measurement: or Why Thick Concepts Call for Coproduction," discusses the issues that thick concepts, those that involve both description and evaluation, pose for the sciences, using well-being as an example, and proposes a novel way to recognize both aspects.

From the abstract:

Thick concepts, namely those concepts that describe and evaluate simultaneously, present a challenge to science. Since science does not have a monopoly on value judgments, what is responsible research involving such concepts? Using measurement of wellbeing as an example, we first present the options open to researchers wishing to study phenomena denoted by such concepts. We argue that while it is possible to treat these concepts as technical terms, or to make the relevant value judgment in-house, the responsible thing to do, especially in the context of public policy, is to make this value judgment through a legitimate political process that includes all the stakeholders of this research. We then develop a participatory model of measurement based on the ideal of co-production. To show that this model is feasible and realistic, we illustrate it with a case study of co-production of a concept of thriving conducted by the authors in collaboration with a UK anti-poverty charity Turn2us.

Fabian has an excellent Twitter thread tracing out some of the central concepts and findings of the paper here:


New book: Heilmann and Reiss (eds), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Economics

Routledge handbook of phil of econBy Mark D. White

Just released is The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Economics, edited by Conrad Heilmann and Julian Reiss. From the publisher's website:

The most fundamental questions of economics are often philosophical in nature, and philosophers have, since the very beginning of Western philosophy, asked many questions that current observers would identify as economic. The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Economics is an outstanding reference source for the key topics, problems, and debates at the intersection of philosophical and economic inquiry. It captures this field of countless exciting interconnections, affinities, and opportunities for cross-fertilization.

The table of contents is reproduced below—I was honored to be invited to contribute a chapter, which appears in Part IV.

1. Introduction  Conrad Heilmann and Julian Reiss

Part I: Rationality

2. History of Utility Theory  Ivan Moscati

3. The Economics and Philosophy of Risk  H. Orri Stefánsson

4. Behavioral Welfare Economics and Consumer Sovereignty  Guilhem Lecouteux

5. The Economic Concept of a Preference  Kate Vredenburgh

6. Economic Agency and the Subpersonal Turn in Economics  James D. Grayot

Part II: Cooperation and Interaction

7. Game Theory and Rational Reasoning  Jurgis Karpus and Mantas Radzvilas

8. Institutions, Rationality, and Coordination  Camilla Colombo and Francesco Guala

9. As If Social Preference Models  Jack Vromen

10. Exploitation and Consumption  Benjamin Ferguson

Part III: Methodology

11. Philosophy of Economics? Three Decades of Bibliometric History  Francois Claveau, Alexandre Truc, Olivier Santerre, and Luis Mireles-Flores

12. Philosophy of Austrian Economics  Alexander Linsbichler

13. Representation  Hsiang Ke-Chao

14. Finance and Financial Economics: A Philosophy of Science Perspective  Melissa Vergara-Fernández and Boudewijn de Bruin

Part IV: Values

15. Values in Welfare Economics  Antoinette Baujard

16. Measurement and Value Judgements  Julian Reiss

17. Reflections on the State of Economics and Ethics  Mark D. White

18. Well-Being  Mauro Rossi

19. Fairness and Fair Division  Stefan Wintein and Conrad Heilmann

Part V: Causality and Explanation

20. Causality and Probability  Tobias Henschen

21. Causal Contributions in Economics  Christopher Clarke

22. Explanation in Economics  Philippe Verreault-Julien

23. Modeling the Possible to Modeling the Actual  Jennifer S. Jhun

Part VI: Experimentation and Simulation

24. Experimentation in Economics  Michiru Nagatsu

25. Field Experiments  Judith Favereau

26. Computer Simulations in Economics  Aki Lehtinen and Jaakko Kuorikoski

27. Evidence-Based Policy  Donal Khosrowi

Part VII: Evidence

28. Economic Theory and Empirical Science  Robert Northcott

29. Philosophy of Econometrics  Aris Spanos

30. Statistical Significance Testing in Economics  William Peden and Jan Sprenger

31. Quantifying Health  Daniel M. Hausman

Part VIII: Policy

32. Freedoms, Political Economy, and Liberalism  Sebastiano Bavetta

33. Freedom and Markets  Constanze Binder

34. Policy Evaluation Under Severe Uncertainty: A Cautious, Egalitarian Approach  Alex Voorhoeve

35. Behavioral Public Policy: One Name, Many Types. A Mechanistic Perspective  Till Grüne-Yanoff

36. The Case for Regulating Tax Competition  Peter Dietsch


What Kind of Ethics in What Kind of Economics?

ScalesGuest post by Yannis Papadopoulos

The re-establishment of ethics in economics—and more precisely in economic theory—is now more than eminent. It is promoted and supported by numerous philosophically intrigued economists. The claim has shifted from Wertfreiheit to teaching economics’ students the importance of moral philosophy in the development of economic theory, and how virtues and moral values do not limit the objective perception of economists by dragging them down a road of vague cogitation, but offer a more concrete understanding of human action. “What to do, then, for economics? Answer: raise ethical men and women, some of whom become economists. We are not doing so now in the education of economists.”* Yet this procedure, even though presented and understood as a leap forward and an escape from the strict mathematical and narrow-minded neoclassical economics method, could still be inadequate and one-dimensional. The question is what kind of ethics are students being taught?

There is not just one ethical theory. As economic theories have their differences, so do ethical theories. Utilitarian and outcome-based ethics are embedded in economic theory and have played a crucial role in the formation of neoclassical economics. If utilitarianism and consequentialism are the only ethical theories that should play a role in economic theory, then we should rest assured that ethics never left and therefore there is no need for their re-establishment in economic theory. Thus, the argument is not to re-establish ethics in economics, since ethical values never left the discussion. The argument is to introduce other ethical theories in economics, which have not participated so far. Utilitarianism and outcome-based ethics can be found not only in neoclassical economics, but in some branches of heterodox economics as well. Kantian and rule-based ethics, however, have been limited to discussions concerning trade and transnational agreements and some policy making processes. Virtue ethics are nowhere to be found.

Students are not in need of introductory lectures that praise the importance of ethics in economics and present ethics only form the utilitarian point of view. Students can easily apprehend the utilitarian logic behind works of great classical and neoclassical economists without being taught the importance of utilitarian ethics. Economics’ students should be given the opportunity to connect economics with a variety of ethical theories. That could lead to a generation of open-minded and ethically-integrated economists and humans in general. By pretending to reexamine economics through ethics, yet being interested only in the utilitarian perspective of ethical values, the course is definite and parallel if not the same as the one economics have followed so far.

* Deirdre McCloskey, "Conclusion: Raising Up Private Max U," in Wilfred Dolfsma and Ioana Negru (eds), The Ethical Formation of Economists (London: Routledge, 2018), pp. 164-183, at p. 177. (Preprint here.)


Yannis Papadopoulos was born in Athens in 1993 and studied European and International Relations at Panteion University in Athens. He received his Master’s degree in Political Economy from King’s College London. At the moment, he is in the final year of his doctoral thesis entitled “The Ethics of Efficiency and the Efficiency of Ethics” at Panteion University, for which he has received a scholarship from the Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation (H.F.R.I).

Email: ioannisjohnpapadopoulos@gmail.com