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Clocks, Creation, and Clarity: Insights on Ethics and Economics from a Feminist Perspective


  • Julie A. Nelson


This essay discusses the origins, biases, and effects on contemporary discussions of economics and ethics of the unexamined use of the metaphor “an economy is a machine.†The neoliberal view that the self-regulated workings of free markets should be kept free of impediments is based on this metaphor. Many of the critiques of capitalist systems are, as well. The belief that economists simply uncover universal “laws of motion†of economies, however, is shown to be based on a variety of rationalist thinking that—while widely held—is inadequate for explaining lived human experience. Feminist scholarship in philosophy of science and economics has brought to light some of the biases that have supported the mechanistic worldview. By structuring thought and language in dualistic categories such that alternatives to a mechanistic worldview are labeled as “soft,†the mechanistic view maintains some of its power by seeming “masculine†and “tough.†Possible alternatives to the “an economy is a machine†metaphor are discussed in their relation to developments in philosophy, psychology, and the natural sciences. The essay argues that metaphors such as “an economy is a creative process†and “an economy is an organism†are both intellectually defensible as guides to scientific inquiry and provide a richer ground for moral imagination.

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  • Julie A. Nelson, "undated". "Clocks, Creation, and Clarity: Insights on Ethics and Economics from a Feminist Perspective," GDAE Working Papers 03-11, GDAE, Tufts University.
  • Handle: RePEc:dae:daepap:03-11

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    1. Neva R. Goodwin & Oleg I. Ananyin & Frank Ackerman & Thomas E. Weisskopf, "undated". "Economics in Context: The Need for a New Textbook," GDAE Working Papers 00-02, GDAE, Tufts University.
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    7. Jonathan M. Harris & Neva R. Goodwin, "undated". "Reconciling Growth and Environment," GDAE Working Papers 03-03, GDAE, Tufts University.
    8. Harris, Jonathan M., 2000. "Basic Principles of Sustainable Development," Working Papers 15600, Tufts University, Global Development and Environment Institute.
    9. Colin F. Camerer & Richard H. Thaler, 1995. "Anomalies: Ultimatums, Dictators and Manners," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 209-219, Spring.
    10. Kevin P. Gallagher & Francisco Aguayo & Ana Citlalic González, "undated". "Dirt is in the Eye of the Beholder: The World Bank Air Pollution Intensities for Mexico," GDAE Working Papers 01-07, GDAE, Tufts University.
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