Handbook of Economics and Ethics
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Handbook of Economics and Ethics

Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren

The Handbook of Economics and Ethics portrays an understanding of economic methodology in which facts and values, though distinct, are closely interconnected in a variety of ways. From theory building to data collection, and from modelling to policy evaluation, this encyclopaedic Handbook is at the intersection of economics and ethics.
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Chapter 43: Karl Marx

Jack Amariglio and Yahya M. Madra


Jack Amariglio and Yahya M. Madra Karl Marx (1818–83) is an unusual figure in the history of ethical and economic thought. Perhaps few such internationally influential thinkers have been so (apparently) contradictorily understood. He is variously interpreted as a trenchant moral critic of the exploitation and alienation of the existing industrial capitalist social order (Buchanan 1982; Geras 1985, 1992); as an amoral historicist who relegated ethics to the realm of ‘false consciousness’; as a broadly conceived moralist who rejected ‘the moral point of view’ (Miller 1984); as a moral relativist who regarded ethical norms as incommensurable, culturally and locationally specific and constantly changing along with transformations in concrete economic conditions; as an ethical visionary who proposed one of the more enduring conceptions of economic and distributive justice of the past two centuries (DiQuattro 1998); as a strict economic determinist who assigned to ethics a not-so-privileged place in the ‘superstructure’ of politics, law, religion and ideology; as a pre-Nietzschean nihilist who saw ‘values’ as a blind for humans living fully (Ruccio and Amariglio 2003); as a one-sided ethical partisan who reserved for the working classes an objective position within morality worth its historical weight; as a transcendental humanist who believed that shared, communal ethical standards would triumph over the course of humanity’s long haul (Kain 1988); and as much else besides. In addition, Marx is thought to have held, unsatisfactorily, several, if not many, of these positions simultaneously (see Lukes 1985), thus adding to the confusion and debate over his...

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