Ethics

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


Ricardo Crespo on teaching the philosophy behind economics to economists (at Journal of Philosophical Economics)

J of phil econBy Mark D. White

In the latest issue of the Journal of Philosophical Economics (14/1-2, Spring-Autumn 2021), Ricardo Crespo (IAE) shares his reflections on "Teaching the Philosophical Grounding of Economics to Economists: A 10 Years' Experience." He describes his rationale below:

Looking at the possibilities of the new currents mentioned above – behavioural economics, neuroeconomics, evolutionary economics, happiness economics, civil economy, and the capability approach – proves highly attractive for students. This is an effective way to introduce philosophy because it is easy to understand that these plural economic approaches are supported by philosophical underpinnings, different epistemological perspectives, and views on human nature and the social world. However, a deep analysis of these new fields (which I undertook in my 2017 book) reveals that not all of them ‘escape’ from the narrow outlook that characterizes current economics. As John Davis points out (2008, p. 365),

economics, as other sciences, has regularly imported other science contents in the past, and having subsequently “domesticated” them, remade itself still as economics. In the current situation, for example, behavioral economics – a research program in economics, not in psychology – employs imports from psychology but frames them in terms of economic concerns.

Exploring the attitudes of economics towards these new possibilities – open or ‘colonialist’ – helps to differentiate them and to discover their philosophical roots. Thus, this analysis shows the influence of underlying philosophical notions on economic theories. (pp. 219-220)


CFP: The Measurement of Discrimination and Inequality (at Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics)

Erasmus journalBy Mark D. White

The Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics has posted a call for papers for an upcoming special issue on the measurement of discrimination and inequality:

The Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics invites submissions for a forthcoming special issue devoted to the philosophy and economics of measuring discrimination and inequality

We are especially interested in contributions (4,000–8,000 words) that take an interdisciplinary approach at the intersection of philosophy and economics, and we welcome texts by authors from across the disciplinary spectrum.

We invite submissions from the following broad categories of possible (but non-exhaustive) questions:

    • Methodology of economics: What are the (normative and descriptive) assumptions underlying approaches to measuring and measures of discrimination and inequality? What explains the different methodological choices (for measuring discrimination/inequality) by researchers in various fields?
    • Ethics and political philosophy: What kind of inequality and discrimination is morally, or politically, relevant? How should researchers adjudicate among different definitions of discrimination and inequality?
    • Public policy: What are the consequences, broadly construed, of the measurement of discrimination and inequality for policy-making?
    • History of economic thought: What is the history behind approaches to measuring and measures of discrimination and inequality?

Length:

Texts should be of standard article length, between 4,000 and 8,000 words.

Deadline:

Texts should be submitted by December 31, 2021 (new extended deadline).

Procedure:

Submissions will go through our standard peer-review process. Please make a submission through the journal’s standard submission system. The special issue is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2022.

Questions:

If you have questions, contact the editors at editors@ejpe.org.


Elsa Kugelberg on norms, choice, and responsibility (in Politics, Philosophy & Economics)

Ppe coverBy Mark D. White

Forthcoming in Politics, Philosophy & Economics is a fascinating article by Elsa Kugelberg (Oxford) titled "Responsibility for Reality: Social Norms and the Value of Constrained Choice," in which she investigates the impact of social norms on the responsibility we bear for our choices, using the example of the interaction of gender norms and HIV prevention measures. From the abstract:

How do social norms influence our choices? And does the presence of biased norms affect what we owe to each other? Looking at empirical research relating to PrEP rollout in HIV prevention policy, a case in which harmful gender norms have been found to impair the choices of young women, I argue that the extent to which we can be held responsible for our choices is connected to the social norms that apply to us. By refining T. M. Scanlon’s Value of Choice view, I introduce a norms-sensitive contractualist theory of substantive responsibility. This feminist ‘Value of Constrained Choice view’ presents those who choose under harmful norms as having generic reasons to reject principles that provide them with opportunities they are effectively constrained from choosing. I argue that to fulfil their duties to us, and our duties to each other, policymakers must study the influence of social norms on choice and accommodate it in public policy. Contractualists have reason to pay special attention to social norms, as their unequal effects on choice reveal that we are not living under terms that no one could reasonably reject.


Bossert, Cato, and Kamaga on sufficientarianism (open-access at Journal of Political Philosophy)

J pol philBy Mark D. White

Forthcoming (and open-access) in the Journal of Political Philosophy from Walter Bossert (University of Montreal), Susumu Cato (University of Tokyo), and Kohei Kamaga (Sophia University), "Critical-Level Sufficientarianism" supplements the utilitarian basis of normative policy-oriented economics with the requirement that no one ends up with too little:

In this article, we employ an axiological approach to identify a class of sufficientarian principles. Our starting point is the notion of absolute priority, a requirement that we consider to be at the very core of sufficientarian ideas. Absolute priority postulates that attention is to be focused on those whose well-being is below the threshold, and the utilities of those above the threshold only matter as a tie-breaker if the criterion to be applied below the threshold fails to be decisive. The feature that is novel to our approach is that we combine this fundamental sufficientarian principle with axioms that have a distinctly utilitarian flavor. This allows us to develop a sufficientarian theory that is based on utilitarian principles. Our most important observation is that our theory, which we refer to as critical-level sufficientarianism, necessarily follows as a consequence of adding the absolute-priority requirement to utilitarian axioms.


Bailey, Rettler, and Warmke on the ethics of cryptocurrency (at Philosophy Compass)

CryptocurrenciesBy Mark D. White

A two-part article forthcoming at Philosophy Compass by Andrew M. Bailey, Bradley Rettler, and Craig Warmke discusses ethical questions surrounding cryptocurrency:

"Philosophy, Politics, and Economics of Cryptocurrency I: Money without State"

In this article, we describe what cryptocurrency is, how it works, and how it relates to familiar conceptions of and questions about money. We then show how normative questions about monetary policy find new expression in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. These questions can play a role in addressing not just what money is, but what it should be. A guiding theme in our discussion is that progress here requires a mixed approach that integrates philosophical tools with the purely technical results of disciplines like computer science and economics.

"Philosophy, Politics, and Economics of Cryptocurrency II: The Moral Landscape of Monetary Design"

In this article, we identify three key design dimensions along which cryptocurrencies differ – privacy, censorship-resistance, and consensus procedure. Each raises important normative issues. Our discussion uncovers new ways to approach the question of whether Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies should be used as money, and new avenues for developing a positive answer to that question. A guiding theme is that progress here requires a mixed approach that integrates philosophical tools with the purely technical results of disciplines like computer science and economics.


Elizabeth Brake on price gouging (in Economics and Philosophy)

Economics and philosophyBy Mark D. White

In the latest issue of Economics and Philosophy (37/3, November 2021), Elizabeth Brake (Rice University) examines one of the most controversial topics in the ethical analysis of market behavior. In her article "Price Gouging and the Duty of Easy Rescue," Brake surveys the standard economic and ethical arguments for and against the practice, and suggests a novel ethical argument against it: that it violates our obligation to help people in emergency situations when it is of little cost to us. This position is usually associated with utilitarianism, thanks to Peter Singer, but can also be derived from various forms of deontology (although the positive nature of the duty may demand an extra step) as well as virtue ethics.

Brake makes a legal case as well as an ethical one, arguing that there is a basis in law for enforcement of a duty of easy rescue in such cases where price gouging arises. As she acknowledges, this is a more difficult case to make, because a legal duty normally implies a right that is violated, and a legal right to assistance is not generally recognized, however dire one's circumstances. She suggests several alternative ways of justifying a limited prohibition of price gouging based on legal duty of easy rescue, such as considering it as part of the regulation of market activity in the public interest, in which businesses are prohibited from harmful practices.

There is much more in Brake's paper than I can discuss here and it rewards a careful reading. For instance, she does address the economic benefits of price gouging, such as increasing supply of much-needed goods to disaster-stricken areas, and her ethical and legal analysis does allow for price increases to cover legitimate costs and risk. Her argument is against "pure" profiteering only, claiming that the seller's interest in higher profit does not justify holding disaster victim's interest in survival hostage to negotiations over price. Related to this, Brake also notes that market conditions are far from ideal in disasters, so we should not assume the same quality of consent, or use the same standards of coercion or duress, when evaluating transactions offered or made in such a context.

(For more of Brake's work on disaster ethics, see the dedicated page at her website.)