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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 12: Utilitarianism after All

Leland B. Yeager


Summarizing ideas from earlier chapters and putting them in close contact with one another may further illuminate them. RELATIONS BETWEEN ECONOMICS AND ETHICS Economists have been writing sensibly on moral philosophy at least as far back as David Hume and Adam Smith. This book has mentioned other notable economist-ethicists also, as well as several moral and political philosophers who have taken the trouble to learn the essentials of economics. This overlap of interests is no coincidence. The same conditions provide the subject matter of both branches of social science. The fact of scarcity, man’s nature as a social animal, with genuine but only limited benevolence toward his fellows, and the benefits of trade and other forms of cooperation require people to get along with one another somehow. Ethics and economics both bear on easing tensions and coordinating decentralized activities as individuals pursue their own goals. Such insights have a venerable history. David Hume judged three conditions essential to long-run planning, saving and investment, and cooperation in large projects. These are the stability of possessions, the transfer of ownership by consent (rather than by force or fraud), and the performance of promises. Earlier, Thomas Hobbes stressed the importance of peace and security, presupposing, as he thought, a government strong enough to suppress the war of all against all. Where every man is enemy to every man and each must look to himself alone for security, Hobbes’s much-quoted description of life under such conditions is apt. Peace and security, however, permit industriousness...

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