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Inverting Economic Imperialism: The Philosophical Roots of Ethical Controversies in Economics


  • Alan Duhs

    (University of Queensland, Australia.


Whereas economics is sometimes presented as the social science and indeed as imperialistic social science, the argument here is quite opposite. It is in fact economics itself which has been colonised by one or another political philosophy. Different schools of economic thought rest their foundations in different political and social philosophies, and this causes their proponents to orient their policy recommendations around differing definitions of ‘freedom’, ‘rationality’, ‘equality of opportunity’ and teleology. It is the a prioris of their implicit philosophies which gives distinctive character to their respective economic theories, and which define their approaches to ethical controversies in economics. Three broad schools of thought are identified in what follows. Chicago School economic imperialists base their response to questions of values and ethics in economics on the underlying philosophy of libertarianism. That philosophy is unacceptable to institutionalist economists, however, since for them people are not meaningfully free to do as they please, unless they are already free from various external constraints. A third set of economists, dubbed radicals, reject the conception of the nature of mankind which is implicit in orthodox economics, and consequently adopt a different view towards values and ethics in economics via their commitment to a different understanding of teleology, rationality and the conception of scientific method.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan Duhs, 2005. "Inverting Economic Imperialism: The Philosophical Roots of Ethical Controversies in Economics," Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics, , vol. 16(3), pages 323-339, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jinter:v:16:y:2005:i:3:p:323-339

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    Cited by:

    1. James E. Alvey, 2011. "A Short History of Ethics and Economics," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 12674, April.

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