Monday, May 4, 2009

Guest Article: Economics and Ethics


I mentioned in previous notes on posts that one of the regular commentators, 'Lord Keynes', would be given the opportunity to post on the blog. Lord Keynes is one of the regular commentators, and often writes a considerable amount of material, which is always well researched and well considered. However, many of the comments that are made run counter to the general thesis of this blog, and have proved to be controversial with other commentators. As such, in the spirit of generating debate, I have offered Lord Keynes an open remit to write a post on any subject, and his post can be found below. I hope that it proves to be of interest, and look forward to the insightful commentary that usually follows my own posts. The post, on ethics and economics, now follows:

Economics and Ethics

Whatever economic system you advocate (e.g., libertarianism, free market economics, neo-liberalism, social democracy, democratic socialism, communism etc), in intelligent debate you should be able to justify that system by appealing to some philosophical or ethical theory, if you want to convince other people of the morality or superiority of your system and your arguments.

In the end, this comes down to choosing an ethical/moral theory, a system that explains your view of morality: that is, why actions are right or wrong.

The only effective theories available to justify a larger philosophical system in a consistent way are objectivist theories of ethics (that is to say, a subjectivist or relativist theory of ethics is self-defeating).

In essence, an objectivist theory of ethics holds that:

– moral judgements are propositions that have an objective value, either true or false (e.g, “The unjustified killing of another human being is wrong”);
– the truth of a moral proposition remains true regardless of the subjective opinions of a person or the values of a different culture (e.g., “Slavery is wrong”);
– morality is not subjective or relative.

If we want an objectivist theory of our morality, we essentially have these options:

Moral Objectivist Theories of Ethics:

(1) Moral absolutism
(a) Divine Command Theory
(b) Categorical Imperative ethics (Kantian ethics)

(2) Moral Universalism (also called minimal or moderate moral realism)
(i) Deontological theories:
(a) Natural law theories (Plato and many Christian philosophers)
(b) Thomist ethics
(c) Pluralistic deontology, the non-absolutist ethics of W.D. Ross
(d) Human rights objectivism (Rawls)
(ii) Consequentialist theories:
(e) Utilitarianism (act utilitarianism; rule utilitarianism)
(f) Ayn Rand’s objectivism?
(iii) Ayn Rand’s objectivism?

(3) Utilitarian Kantian Principle of James Cornman (combines deontology and utilitarianism

All of these objectivist theories of morality/ethics can be divided into 2 basic groups as follows:

(1) Deontological theories (= duty or obligation based morality): the basis of morality is duty and some acts are always right no matter what consequences they can cause (the best example of which is Kantian ethics or some forms of divine command theory; Kant famously said that it is always wrong to lie, no matter what the circumstances).

(2) Consequentialist theories: the basis of morality is the evaluation of the consequences of acts on people (the most famous such theory is Utilitarianism). The greatest happiness of the greatest number of people is one way of describing it.

(I will not address the question whether Ayn Rand’s objectivism is consequentialist or in a category by itself, since this is disputed.)

Use your intuition and find out whether you subscribe to (1) a duty-based ethical theory or (2) a utilitarian or consequentialist ethical theory by thinking about this moral problem:

A known murderer comes to you and asks to know where a person he wants to kill is, and you are aware of his desire to commit murder. Do you:

(1) Lie to protect the innocent person and say you do not know, or
(2) Tell the murderer where that person is in the knowledge that a murder may

Decision (1) makes you a utilitarian, and (2) a believer of duty-based ethics. Immanuel Kant, although it hard to believe, held that (2) is the moral course of action, since lying is always immoral, under all circumstances.

Ethics as Applied to Economics

Divine command theory is easily refuted: e.g., if god orders someone to commit genocide, then this suddenly becomes a “moral” action, because God has ordered it. Thus divine ethics turns out to be a subjective theory of ethics: what is moral and what is not actually depends, in the end, on the arbitrary whim of God, not the goodness of actions or their consequences. (Kantian ethics was in fact partly an attempt to create an objectivist ethics that could defend Christian morality, but remove this problem by basing morality on moral principles derived from human reason.)

Many libertarians rely on a natural law/natural rights theory of ethics.

Thus they often argue that state intervention is bad when it violates private property rights, and that this government action is always immoral, irrespective of the good or bad consequences that state intervention has or may have.

Natural law as a theory can be traced back to Plato, the ancient Stoics, and many Christian philosophers. (Contrary to popular belief, the most widely-held theory of ethics in the Middle Ages in Christian philosophy was the natural law theory, not the crude divine command theory.)

Natural law was famously attacked by the English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham as “nonsense on stilts.”

One of the main weaknesses of natural law theory is that its main historical justification was the belief in a “divine order” and a divinely-created human nature that makes us conform to “natural law.”

For Plato, the divine soul made human beings conform to the natural law of the universe. In ancient Stoicism, all humans had a divine reason given by the gods to make them adhere to divine “natural law.”

When natural law theory was taken up by Christian theologians, they simply substituted the Christian god for the gods of the Greek and Romans.

In the early modern period, rationalist European philosophers like Grotius tried to defend natural law theory by removing God and the previous supernatural justification for it.

However, in doing so, they destroyed the only convincing explanation for belief in natural law (Tawney 1998: xxv-xxvi).

Thus anyone who accepts an atheistic and naturalistic scientific view of the universe, and who rejects all religion, has no reason to believe in natural law or natural rights.

It follows that all modern types of libertarianism or free market economics based simply on a “natural law” or “natural rights” foundation are severely flawed systems (e.g., the systems of Adam Smith or Murray Rothbard).

There is no reason to believe that the “natural law” that justifies placing inviolable property rights at the centre of our modern political or economic systems has any validity whatsoever.

In my opinion, Kantian ethics has no real consequences for economics: it can be used to justify numerous economic systems and is fully compatible with social democracy.

However, Kantian deontological ethics has severe problems.

A better ethical theory, in my view, is a modern form of utilitarianism called rule utilitarianism (which is quite different from its crude early form as advocated by Jeremy Bentham).

Some libertarians or advocates of free market economics actually do use utilitarian arguments to justify their positions and economic systems (e.g., Ludwig von Mises, the earlier Friedrich von Hayek [Gregg 2003: 21-22], and Milton Friedman [Frederick 2002: 23]).

Thus anyone who uses a utilitarian argument to support ideas about economics will ultimately have to examine the good and bad effects of the policies they advocate.

In these theories, there is no a priori reason why state intervention could not in principle be moral and successful.

Any economic argument, then, essentially becomes an argument about empirical reality: the consequences of economic policy today and in the past.

The good consequences of state intervention and social democracy for the greatest number of people in society fully justify these policies.

Of course, philosophical objections have been raised to utilitarianism.

One solution may be that we should adopt James Cornman’s Utilitarian Kantian Principle of ethics: this (as I understand it) has caused a great deal of excitement amongst modern philosophers, because it combines the best elements of Kant’s deontological ethics with utilitarianism. It is perfectly compatible with state intervention in economics.


Frederick, R. 2002. A Companion to Business Ethics, Blackwell, Malden, Mass.

Gregg, S. 2003. On Ordered Liberty: A Treatise on the Free Society, Lexington, Oxford and Lanham, Md.

Scruton, R. 1994. Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey, Penguin Books, London.

Tawney, R. H. 1998. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Transaction, New Brunswick, N.J. and London.

J. W. Cornman, K. Lehrer, and G. S. Pappas. 1992. Philosophical Problems and Arguments: An Introduction, Hackett, Indianapolis.


  1. With regards to morality, there is considerable evidence for an innate sense of right and wrong. The work of Hauser demonstrates this convincingly. You link natural law to religion, but the work of Hauser shows that ethics are innate, and not based upon religion.

    'These studies begin to provide
    empirical support for the idea that, like other psychological faculties of the mind, including language and mathematics,we are endowed with a moral faculty that guides our intuitive judgments
    of right and wrong, interacting in
    interesting ways with the local culture.

    These intuitions reflect the outcome of millions of years in which our ancestors have lived as social mammals and are part of our common inheritance, as much as our opposable thumbs are.'

    The nature of this innate sense of ethics and, for example, libertarian notions of 'rights' has not been connected, and would be difficult to achieve. However, the idea that forms of utilitarianism are the only viable answer is undermined by this insight. Peter Singer, a utilitarian I believe, is co-author of the above article.

    You say:

    'Thus anyone who accepts an atheistic and naturalistic scientific view of the universe, and who rejects all religion, has no reason to believe in natural law or natural rights.'

    If ethics are innate, there is every reason to believe in natural rights.

    With regards to your citing of empiricism, I would suggest that we can learn something from the past, but must treat the past with caution. The situation in time A and the circumstances of place B are never the same as time C and place D. Economic situations are rarely (if ever) replicated or similar enough to use the past as a clear guide. This is why, for example, I highlight the extraordinary circumstances of Japanese QE (printing money), and contrast this with the current situation in the UK/US.

    You say that:

    'The good consequences of state intervention and social democracy for the greatest number of people in society fully justify these policies.'

    In the end, under utilitarian principles, the question returns to the outcome of policy. A policy may be enacted with good intentions (welfare policy) but have negative consequences (welfare dependency). In other cases, if we are pragmatic, government policies might be sold as being based in ethics, but where the policy is as much about a power grab as it is about ethics.

    This is the idea that there is an inherent tendency to build 'empires', in order for individuals to raise/maintain their status/importance. The more power we have, the greater our status as a result.

    This is one of the reasons why libertarians are suspicious of government. They rarely shrink their powers and, over the long term, seem only to increase their powers.

    If we look at the current situation, the risks in government extending its remit can be seen in the effective power that they now wield over the banking system. They are now pursuing a program of forcing banks into lending. I have detailed the risks in such a policy in many posts.

    If we look at this, it is possible to take two perspectives. The positive interpretation is that they are doing so in order to improve the wider economy, a utilitarian outcome. The negative interpretation is that they are trying to save their electoral skins (retain power), by giving the economy a short term boost at the risk of a later cost.

    The probable reality is that it is a mix of both perspectives that saw the policy being developed. In either case, the outcome is likely negative, in both utilitarian terms, and in ethical terms. The unintended consequences are negative, and why should greater future damage be inflicted upon the economy to allow a government to retain power?

    In the end, it is more complex a question than I believe you detail. Sure, it may be possible for government intervention to have positive outcomes. However, to separate these outcomes from the human weaknesses of those that propose them is to ignore the reality of the actual situation. Each time a government policy is proposed, we need to see why the policy is being proposed, and try to see the possible unintended outcomes.

    For example, returning to government power over the banks, it is possible that the government is using that power to support the bond market (as yet unproven, but quite possible). This would be a method of covering up that the policies that are being followed can not be sustained, and would (I think all would agree) have a long term negative outcome. This is not about utilitarian outcomes, but about holding on to power at great cost.

    Whilst the above is a speculative example, the matter of imposing lending is not. In both cases we can see potential for misuse of government power. Such examples highlight one of the themes of libertarian arguments; that power should remain with the individual as far as possible. This is to avoid the abuse of power.

    As I have shown in my reform posts, I am not a hard nosed libertarian, but do believe in the minimisation of government intervention, as far as it practicable. The nature of practicable is, of course, the big question. As such, I focus on a desired outcome, and seek to achieve the outcome with the minimum of government interference.

    Furthermore, it is not possible to separate out an individual policy from the broader situation - the culture of the county, level of education, the state of technology and so forth. In each case, the amount of sustainable government intervention in the economy will be different. There are no hard and fast rules that we can put in place. However, my argument is that one factor has changed. This is that the level of competition has increased, and that means that what was sustainable yesterday, might not be today. Again, we come to the matter of the economy of the past and the economy of now, and how me might use/misuse past experience and situation in the present context.

    In the current scenarios, we are seeing greater and greater interventions, and I remain unconvinced that all of these are based upon ethics. The recent UK budget has widely been derided as being an election budget, so I am not alone in this suspicion.

    We are seeing more government intervention in the economy at a time when we demonstrably can not afford the current level of intervention. Furthermore, the increase in competition means that our old model of sustainability might be questioned.

    In an ideal world we can implement any number of policies, but the world is not ideal. I have also highlighted many of the unintended consequences of government policies, such that I do not believe they can be justified even on utilitarian grounds. Increasing government intervention at this moment in time is a way of providing a short term gain at the cost of long term loss. This is, at least, an unintended consequence. A policy to do 'X' good now at cost 'Y' can not be sustained, and will be paid for with a greater later cost such that policy 'z' can not be implemented.

    This is a quick (and not too coherent) response, and one to which you will no doubt reply. I will look forward to your answer and, time allowing, respond to your comments.

  2. Reply to Cynicus Economicus Part 1
    “With regard to morality, there is considerable evidence for an innate sense of right and wrong. The work of Hauser demonstrates this convincingly. You link natural law to religion, but the work of Hauser shows that ethics are innate, and not based upon religion.”But “natural law” is not the same thing as an innate sense of right and wrong.

    That some scientists believe they can identify an innate sense of right and wrong, which humans have evolved through social life in communities during our evolutionary history, does not mean that they have found an objectivist theory of morality that can function as a consistent, logical and universal system for justifying our moral choices, both now and in the past.The well-known fact that there is a vast chasm between what can be regarded as moral in one society and immoral in another demonstrates that, like our language faculty (which also has a biological basis), our innate moral intuition can lead to quite different systems of morality in different cultures in different times (just as our core language faculty leads to vastly different languages, with different words, grammar and syntax).

    For instance, in ancient Greece and Rome, the killing of unwanted children by exposing them (i.e., leaving them at crossroads or abandoning them at birth) was widely accepted.

    Human sacrifice and slavery were also widely practised in many ancient societies, and this was apparently perfectly compatible with the “innate moral sense of right and wrong” that ancient people had, although it is no longer accepted today.

    Only an objectivist theory of morality can demonstrate that these things are immoral now and also immoral in the past.So it turns out the innate sense of right and wrong is not the same thing as an objectivist theory of morality.

    Furthermore, studies of people with damage to a particular part of brain show that this innate sense of right and wrong is heavily influenced by emotion:

    In our recent studies, collaborating with a patient population that has been carefully studied by the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio and his colleagues, we have found an exciting and highly selective deficit. Whereas these patients show normal patterns of responses to a relatively large class of moral dilemmas, they show highly abnormal responses on one specific type of dilemma. In particular, where the action involves personal contact with another individual, and where the choice is between harming one versus many, and there are no clear social norms available to decide, these patients consistently take the utilitarian route, selecting the option that yields the greatest good regardless of the means required to achieve such ends. Thus, damage to this particular area of the brain, one that connects emotional processing with high-level decision making, yields a highly selective deficit in moral judgment. Of course, if you are a utilitarian, your interpretation will be different! You will think that it is because of irrational emotions that we don't all think like utilitarians, seeing the overall good as the only relevant moral yardstick.Greg Ross, An interview with Marc Hauser,

    Emotion can be extremely arbitrary and, by definition, different from reasoned thought. It is no secure way to decide what is right and wrong.

    If ethics are innate, there is every reason to believe in natural rights.I don’t think so. Natural rights imply that these rights are part of some natural or almost physical order in the universe. This is deeply mistaken. The universe was not made for human beings, and whatever rights we have will have to be justified by consistent objectivist ethical theories.

  3. >>You link natural law to religion, but the work of Hauser shows that ethics are innate, and not based upon religion. <<

    You might equally argue that the reason religion is present in every civilisation ever found on Earth in one form or another could be because religion is a way or interpreting an "innate" morality

    Or, if you were a believer, you might look at it the other way around and suggest that the "innate" morality humans seem to have is there because God put it there.

    I certainly believe we have an innate morality. Which isn't to say that we're always great. Looking around the world on any given day can reveal the horrors we are capable of. (This months New Scientist has an article about bear mistreatment that I found profoundly disturbing, for instance.)

    Innate Morality, if it does exist, takes a back-seat to survival though. In the end, morality seems stronger in situations where it is more easily 'afforded'.

    Thanks for the article, Lord Keynes. I found it quite heavy-going (clearly, you've studied this to a high level) but enjoyable. Much appreciated.

  4. Thanks CE for the platform and Lord Keynes for the article. I too enjoyed it very much.

    It would be interesting to read about your thoughts on where we go from here. I have always assumed from your comment posts you were, relatively, positive.

  5. Lord Keynes,

    I’m struggling to accept your premises which, to my mind, are skewed to justify philosophical discourse but may not apply in reality.

    Your article appears to preclude the possibility that morality is junk.

    I’d suggest that it’s possible to act and think without reference to anything as abstract as morality. Indeed, vast tracts of human experience have been (non)determined thus.

    Notably, there’s no appearance by morality in nature and I reject any suggestion of our separation from nature. If morality exists, and I’d query whether it isn’t a phantom of the civilised mind, perhaps what we label morality is merely an unwarranted extrapolation from the manifestation of our instinctual drives. For example, maternal and paternal acts require no reference to a philosophical textbook.

    “In the end, this comes down to choosing an ethical/moral theory, a system that explains your view of morality: that is, why actions are right or wrong.”

    No, again, this seems like a charter for university lecturers rather than a reflection of human reality. Right vs. wrong is a dubious and curiously Western duality.

    I’d suggest that the codification of moral behaviour is actually deleterious to good in the world, hampering rather than facilitating the agency of our instinctual natures. Perhaps the supreme irony of the human condition is that self-consciously moral acts often merely subtract from someone else’s well-being elsewhere. In a world of finite resources, nowhere is this more clear than in our economic activity. An example would be the NHS, presumably a morally sound concept if ever there was one, and its tendency to absorb trained medical staff from poor societies.

    In conclusion, I'd suggest that conscious moral intervention in the world is in fact blind and fundamentally unmoral.

  6. Lord Keynes, you discuss different definitions of morality/ethics and suggest that a logical univeral system of morality can be defined but you fail to cover the basic, almost animal, instincts that we humans have and which constantly battle against our moral code. Humans are inately Lazy, Greedy and self-centred (with "self" being extended to include loved ones etc).

    Therefore any analysis of economic policies by those in power must be guided by these 3 instincts. It has already been commented that the recent budget is an election one, thus showing that self-interest is at heart. The simplistic QE policy is clearly a very lazy attempt to get the economy rolling again, it needed very little effort to implement (even less effort was expended thinking it through) and doesn't require a massive shake up of the UK economy to get a focus back on value-added wealth creation. As for some greed driven decisions one simply has to look at MP's expenses. Morality and ethics does come into play here but quite frankly they only claimed for what they were allowed - they played the system (haven't we all) and took what they could get to ensure a better standard of living for their families with minimal effort.

    Looking slightly deeper at the whole economic mess we are in at the moment one can see these 3 base instincts coming into play. Lazy citizens looking to improve their lot were greedy and took out loans they had very little chance of ever paying back. It could be argued that Darwinian principles were at work here and that these individuals simply exploited an environmental niche although now that environment has been destroyed I fear for the long term survival of the chav species.

  7. "From each according to his ability - to each according to his need" unarguable you would think?

    How many did that kill when it was attempted to impose it?

  8. What a load of rubbish

  9. Dear Lord K
    My constructive criticism - I'm sure I and others would like to read your thoughts and understand them fully, without consulting a dictionary every other line.

  10. I enjoyed reading this and the comments - it gave me a different viewpoint from the stuff Cynicus has been posting about. I also enjoyed reading Martin's comment which made me chuckle, he is clearly fairly cynical too!

    Just a point Cynicus - you could have formatted the post better for Lord Keynes, to make it more readable e.g. bold titles, proper bullet points etc. There is a trend here of 1 sentence per paragraph which I think detracts from the readibility of the article - I had to read it twice to properly understand it.

  11. @ LK

    Thank you for a thought-provoking article.

    I would have been interested to see your assessment take on a Hegelian/Marxist/Frommian perspective - where morality is viewed as an evolving process dynamically interdependant with many other evolving other processes - human knowledge, technologies, social structures, etc.

    @ CE

    re "If ethics are innate, there is every reason to believe in natural rights."

    This rests on an oversimplification of what 'innate' means - it is innate in (most) humans to learn some form of language but the specific language that is learned is culturally prescribed. Though there may be similarities in the underlying structure of all language (universal grammar, etc) the flexibility of the structure allows for vast differences also. The same probably applies to ethical thought.

    [note: after typing this I scrolled down to realise that LK has made the exact same point. I leave in for emphasis]

    re "The negative interpretation is that they are trying to save their electoral skins (retain power), by giving the economy a short term boost at the risk of a later cost."

    I believe they have always done this and it is one of the (many) reasons why capitalism and (meaningful) democracy are ultimately incompatible. Personally I'd favour the preservation and strengthening of the later at the expense of the former; following your blog for some time, I'm still unclear what your preference would be.

  12. C.E., Lord Keynes.

    I partially agree with Joe6pack, but I offer an explanation for my skepticism.

    The only ethic is:
    As we are mortal, that includes survival of our own genes through reproduction, which implies taking care of our children and partner i.e. of our family.
    Big families had better chances of survival and they developed in clans/tribes/cities/states, i.e. societies.
    When it is possible (abundance of food, natural resources) collaboration between social groups is the most logical, economic choice: union makes force.
    Notice also that a full stomach may allow for philosophy and ethics to be mulled.
    But when collaboration is not possible, competition takes place.

    That means WAR. Mors tua vita mea. Suspension of ethics, because ethics do not fill stomachs.

    The ethic of a democratically elected government should be to provide the best living conditions for the majority of the society they rule, if they want to stay (survive) in power, otherwise the get the boot.
    Of course, there are ways of cheating at the game… Like manipulating the media. That’s what the “spin doctors” are for.

    Non-democratic governments have lesser problems: they use plain propaganda or brute force. Individuals are disposable in the “ethical” interest of the “Nation”, the“Emperor”, “the Party”, or because “God says so”.
    Their real ethic is to stay (survive) in power – just like the democratic ones – but they don’t need to worry about election, only about coups and revolution.

    The other worry of governments (democratic or otherwise) is to defend their state from hostile ones. As in the ocean, big fish eats small fish and eating is better than be eaten.
    So, better to have a strong army handy and have an aggressive foreign policy.

    That has been the essence of human behavior in history and it always will be, I challenge everyone to show me any ethic. The Mahatma Gandhi is, unfortunately, an exception confirming the rule.

    Now, back to economics, please. You are great at it.


    Phil in Cyprus

  13. I don't think that posting had much to do with economics or ethics. It was just self-indulgent nonsense.

    If only people would spend less time trying to prove their intellect. This article and the replies are basically men trying to outsmart each other. Nothing but a testosterone blog.

    What next for this blog? Cooking techniques or music reviews?

    What about an intellectual debate on who is better? Captain Kirk or Spock?

  14. What a load of rubbish and waffle. Cynicus, please stick to your own libertarian blogging and not of those whose opposing views have caused this mess.

  15. Very interesting, thanks for this good contribution to the site.

    I agree about morality being ad-hoc, created retrospectively. And economic throet needing to tske sccount of selfishness.

  16. Lord Keynes and Cynicus Economicus

    From what I gather from your extremely incoherent post is that you think state stimulus is morally and ethically sound. (It’s hard to know because you made no sense whatsoever)

    If this is correct, I agree. I have been worried that governments would be reluctant to provide the necessary stimulus. Currently, I don’t think they did. Gordon Brown was too worried about debt statistics and didn’t go far enough.

    With regards ethics and economics I believe the first priority for any government is the poorest and least able people in society. If they are protected and given an acceptable standard of living the economy will sort itself out.

  17. Just another take, from the real world.

    "5. But more important than any of the above is the fact that our economy, indeed our entire civilization, is based on an obviously false assumption that we can have growth without limits. Even if we were able to restart the economic engine and push the pedal to the floor, we would not get far before we ran out of gas. And fresh water. And fertile soil. And food. And a lot of other necessities of life that we have taken for granted, without consideration of the future. We live on a small planet with limited resources, and we are using them up at an alarming rate. In just my lifetime, our population has grown from 2.2 billion to 6.7 billion, over three hundred percent.

    There's a kind of desperation that growth rate breeds. We need more houses, more TVs, more cars, more highways, more food, more iPods, more energy, more everything every year, to keep up with growth, to keep investors happy, to keep the economy thriving, to keep from . . . from what? Is it like that bus in "Speed," or that character in "Crank," that you die if you slow down? What if it's just the opposite? What if this economic downturn is nothing compared to the crash we were heading for if we had continued full speed? I don't think the economy will ever be what it was, but maybe that will force us to change our assumptions about what it should be."

  18. Reply to Coshbrew
    "From each according to his ability - to each according to his need" unarguable you would think?
    How many did that kill when it was attempted to impose it?

    This saying of Karl Marx is little more than a rhetorical slogan.

    Marx himself, as I understand it, rejected the utilitarianism of his day for some very confused ideas on ethics (Alan Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 240). And, at the very least, the question of what ethical theory he believed in is debatable (N. Churchich, Marxism and Morality: A Critical Examination of Marxist Ethics, James Clarke & Co., 1994, p. 139).

    Since I don’t advocate communism as preached in the Communist Manifesto, it has nothing to do with my moral argument for certain types of state intervention.

    Furthermore, the means Marx advocated to achieve communism (i.e., dictatorship, destruction of freedom of speech and civil liberties) can be rejected on utilitarian grounds anyway, since the abolition of freedom of speech and dictatorship have harmful effects on everyone.

    If the saying “From each according to his ability - to each according to his need” is reduced to some idea like “people should not be allowed to starve in a capitalist society because they cannot find work on the market”, then that principle has been put into effect years ago in Western democratic societies (in the 1930s in fact).

    Has it led to concentration camps, mass murder and genocide in, say, Canada, the UK, Australia, France, Belgium, the US, New Zealand, or Ireland?

    I think not.

  19. Reply to Lagan
    Your article appears to preclude the possibility that morality is junk.
    I’d suggest that it’s possible to act and think without reference to anything as abstract as morality. Indeed, vast tracts of human experience have been (non)determined thus. Notably, there’s no appearance by morality in nature and I reject any suggestion of our separation from nature

    The existence of an innate sense of morality in the human mind (as Cynicus has argued) tells against this view. Evolution has equipped us with mental faculties that help us to live in communities. Moral feelings are fundamentally the result of social life in humans.

    Right vs. wrong is a dubious and curiously Western duality.
    Ethics is not a Western construct. Every literate society has had philosophers concerned with the difference between right actions and wrong actions.

  20. Thanks to Ishmon, Matt and Steve Tierney for your comments.Lord Keynes.

  21. Reply to Acrobat_747
    I didn't support the bank bailouts in the form that they had.

    As for the idea of economic stimulus, under certain circumstances, I find it perfectly acceptable, though I would have criticisms of the current UK and US programs.

    Cynicus Economicus, though I don't need to speak for him, does not support the stimulus at all.

  22. Reply to Anonymous
    What a load of rubbish and waffle. Cynicus, please stick to your own libertarian blogging and not of those whose opposing views have caused this mess.
    All the great libertarian minds like Adam Smith, Murray Rothbard, and Ayn Rand started from philosophical principles like ethics to justify their economic theories, though I don't subscribe to libertarian ideas myself.

    But if talking about ethics was good enough for Adam Smith, then it's good enough for me!

  23. Reply to Tiberius
    I would have been interested to see your assessment take on a Hegelian/Marxist/Frommian perspectiveThanks very much for your comments.
    I hope to take a closer look at Marxist ethics in the near future. Please see my earlier reply to Coshbrew, for some initial thoughts on Marx.

  24. Reply to Martin
    Humans are innately Lazy, Greedy and self-centred (with "self" being extended to include loved ones etc).
    I don't believe this for one second. It is a gross oversimplication. Some humans are lazy and greedy, others are not.
    If all humans were in fact inherently lazy, then why doesn't everyone (or even 50% of the work force) quit work tomorrow and go and claim welfare?

    Even when we in the West had a welfare system much more generous than we do now, such a thing has never happened, and it gives the lie to the idea that all humans are worthless lazy layabouts.

  25. >>What next for this blog? Cooking techniques or music reviews?<<

    You made this guess based on the assumption that we had become fuelled by testosterone. I'm afraid your idea of what constitutes 'testosterone' subjects and mine differ.

    Cooking techniques? Music reviews? This is clearly the 'New Man' shandy-testosterone of which you are speaking. : )

    >>What about an intellectual debate on who is better? Captain Kirk or Spock?<<

    Who is better in which respect? As a leader? (Kirk). As a scientist? (Spock). As a combatant (Arguable, probably Spock.) As a literature creation (each to his own). As a top trumps card?

    Stop your whining. If you don't like the post, don't read the post! And don't pose questions you don't want answered.

  26. LK,

    I believe that all living creatures are inherently lazy and only work when they need to (eg lions / birds of prey only hunt when necessary thus conserving energy). This is countered by the Greed aspect of human nature in which it is in constant battle. As you rightly say we do not have a society where the majority are layabouts. This I believe is due to the greed/desire of individuals to increase/improve their lot. The ratio of greed to laziness is different from person to person but it is still there and is weighted by the self-centred preservation instinct. In any society a welfare system will be designed to cover the basic needs of a people and regardless of how generous it may be the desire to have more will still make (most) individuals get off their backsides.

    In the end we are little more than sophisticated animals - chemical machines which react to external stimuli based upon some programmed reactions, the difference being that humans can alter that programming through cultural norms.

  27. From Spiked Online.

    "The real blame for the economic crisis lies with the economic and political elites of the Western world. Rather than attempt to grapple with the problem of economic atrophy, they have adapted to it. They celebrate low growth, and even falls in consumption, as welcome ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ development. Hutton’s attack on bankers endorses this flawed narrative rather than challenging it."

  28. CE please leave out such foolosophy posts. There are many blogs on the internet dedicated to foolosophists spouting useless intellectual rubbish.


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