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Ethics as Social Science

The Moral Philosophy of Social Cooperation

Leland B. Yeager

With this important book, esteemed economist Leland B. Yeager grounds moral and political philosophy in the requirements of a well-functioning society, one whose members reap the gains from peaceful cooperation while pursuing their own diverse goals.
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Chapter 1: Ethics and Economics

Leland B. Yeager


SOCIAL SCIENCE To call ethics a social science is not to announce a distinct science with special techniques of its own. Nor is it a grab for the prestige of science. Instead, it recommends an attitude. Instead of being a parade ground of intuitions, revelations, and bombast, ethics can attune itself to the findings of the social (and natural) sciences and psychology. It can even suggest questions for those fields. Social science helps check ethical intuitions against facts. It examines clashes among values and helps sort out the most fundamental ones. It recognizes that fact and logic alone cannot recommend private actions and public policies; ethical judgments must also enter in. Knowing that “good intentions are not enough”, social science insists on comparing how alternative sets of institutions and rules are likely to work. This book’s subtitle, “The Moral Philosophy of Social Cooperation”, is inexact for the sake of brevity. More fully it should read “Moral Philosophy Grounded in the Requirements of Social Cooperation”. The book seeks to explain why people recognize ethical precepts and esteem the character traits that foster following them. Central to this explanation is what “social cooperation” requires. The latter term labels a framework of laws, customs, attitudes, and so forth that is conducive to individuals’ successful cooperation with one another as they seek to make good lives for themselves in their own ways. NONSCIENTIFIC APPROACHES TO ETHICS The idea of ethics as social science gains clarity by contrast with other views. One of those sees...

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