The Economics of Ethics and the Ethics of Economics

The Economics of Ethics and the Ethics of Economics

Values, Markets and the State

Edited by Geoffrey Brennan and Giuseppe Eusepi

This book makes a rational and eloquent case for the closer integration of ethics and economics. It expands upon themes concerned with esteem, self-esteem, emotional bonding between agents, expressive concerns, and moral requirements.

Chapter 7: Positive Constraints on Normative Political Theory

Geoffrey Brennan and Alan Hamlin

Subjects: economics and finance, political economy, public choice theory, politics and public policy, political economy, public choice


1 Geoffrey Brennan and Alan Hamlin Introduction What should be the relationship between positive political theory and normative political theory? This is the large question towards which this chapter edges. The answer to this large question will depend, in part, on our understanding of the purposes of positive and normative political theory, respectively. We will not dwell for long on discussing the range of potential purposes and will simply stipulate that a primary purpose of positive political theory is to explain observed political behaviour. We will make no attempt to explain what we mean by ‘explain’, or the differences between explanation, prediction and other related ideas, but we will stress that the central idea of explanation goes beyond mere description while leaving open a wide variety of approaches to positive political theory.2 With respect to normative political theory, we identify three possible aims. First, analysing normative concepts, categories, ideals and intuitions aimed at revealing their true features and interrelationships (if any). Call this the formal aim of normative theory. Second, deploying normative criteria or ideals to evaluate particular actions, policies, practices, reforms and institutions. Call this the evaluative aim of normative political theory. Third, justifying and advocating particular actions, policies, practices, reforms and institutions in the real world. Call this the practical aim of normative political theory.3 Clearly these three aims interact, in that the practical aim requires formal and evaluative consideration, and equally clearly normative political theory might be valuable even if the practical aim were not achieved – although...

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