An introduction to economics as a moral science

James E. Alvey (Department of Applied and International Economics, Massey University, New Zealand)

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Publication date: 1 December 2000

Abstract

Mainstream economists now consider their discipline to be a technical one that is free from ethical concerns. I argue that this view only arose in the twentieth century. In this paper I set out a brief history of economics as a moral science. First, I sketch the evolution of economics before Adam Smith, showing that it was generally (with the exception of the mercantilists) conceived of as a part of moral philosophy. Second, I present elements of the new interpretation of Smith, which show him as a developer of economics as a moral science. Third, I show that even after Smith, up to the beginning of the twentieth century, a number of leading economic theorists envisioned economics as a moral science, either in theory or in practice. Fourth, I sketch the decline of economics as a moral science. The key factor was the emergence and influence of positivism. Overall, I show that the current view of the detachment of economics from morals is alien to much of the history of the discipline.

Keywords

Citation

Alvey, J. (2000), "An introduction to economics as a moral science", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 27 No. 12, pp. 1231-1252. https://doi.org/10.1108/03068290010353208

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Publisher

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MCB UP Ltd

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

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