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the “vanity of the Philosopher” Sympathy lost (and regain'd?)peart and Levy's

A Research Annual

ISBN: 978-1-84663-904-3, eISBN: 978-1-84663-905-0

Publication date: 31 July 2008


Sandra Peart and David Levy's “The Vanity of the Philosopher” is an enlightening look into a potentially embarrassing (and certainly neglected by modern economists) period in the history of economic thought. It provides a plausible argument that classical economics was transformed in the mid-Nineteenth Century from a discipline that took for granted the equal capacity for judgment of every individual actor to one that placed a premium on the judgment of economic experts. They identify the turning point as when economists began to reject sympathy as something that should factor into our judgments. The loss of sympathy makes the move to hierarchicalism much easier to achieve. In the Twentieth Century, hierarchicalism was overturned by the new egalitarian free market ideology of the Austrian and Chicago Schools, but the authors point out that sympathy did not come back with it. The result is that people now treat economic inequalities as a consequence of the market, but not as something that they need to worry about (since the assumption is that everyone has the power to change the market, if they so desire). The book ends on a hopeful note: now that the elements missing from current economic theory have been identified, it is possible that they can be revived in order to create an economic theory that is more attentive to the demands of social justice and offer mechanisms that might better motivate people to respond to those demands.


Terjesen, A. (2008), " the “vanity of the Philosopher” Sympathy lost (and regain'd?)peart and Levy's", Samuels, W.J., Biddle, J.E. and Emmett, R.B. (Ed.) A Research Annual (Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Vol. 26 Part 1), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 169-186.



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