Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 40: Immanuel Kant
Mark D. White Mainstream economics and Immanuel Kant’s duty-based ethics might at first seem odd bedfellows, given the utilitarian roots of the former. Models of individual choice in economics are based on maximizing an index of utility based on preference-satisfaction, while Kant’s deontological ethics deal with immeasurable right and wrong. Modern welfare economics assesses policies based on their effects on the sum of these utilities, with no judgement on procedure, while Kantians would focus on the possible violations of human dignity in pursuit of this goal. Most broadly, Kantian moral theory is fundamentally individualistic, while maintaining an emphasis on the social. Economics, in contrast, is schizophrenic on this score, claiming firm support of individuals’ rights while actually subordinating them to utilitarian calculus. This chapter briefly introduces Kant’s ethics, after which it discusses two areas of economics particularly affected by Kantian considerations. The first area is that comprising work done by economists incorporating Kantian ethics into the standard model of choice. The second is the much more limited area of work on the implications of a Kantian welfare economics. Introduction to Kantian ethics Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) spent his entire life in Königsberg, East Prussia, most of it as a professor at the University of Königsberg. Kant was renowned not only for his published works, but also for his vibrant lecturing style and frequent dinner parties with friends, neighbours and students. His seminal contributions spanned many fields of philosophy, including metaphysics, logic, aesthetics and, of course, moral philosophy. His...
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