Values, Markets and the State
Edited by Geoffrey Brennan and Giuseppe Eusepi
Chapter 4: Conceptual Confusions, Ethics and Economics
4. Conceptual confusions, ethics and economics Hartmut Kliemt Introduction and overview The neoclassical economist tends to believe that rational normative argument is confined to pointing out means–ends relationships. The ends must be those of somebody, and a rational normative argument is valid relative to given ends, aims or values shared by the addressee of the argument. Beyond this kind of justificatory relativism economists tend to subscribe to the metaphysical or ontological thesis that there are no objective values. This in turn leads to noncognitivism since nothing can be known about what does not exist. Such an epistemological view about the structure of the world or at least the structure of appearance is often mixed up with justificatory relativism. But the two positions are distinct. At least conceivably, somebody could believe that there are some objective values in the world whose presence or absence could be ascertained like, say, the presence or absence of colors (secondary qualities), and at the same time maintain that whatever rationally compelling force a normative argument might have is relative to given ends, aims or values of the addressee of the argument. The economist will typically believe that what matters is the assent of the addressee of the argument to some basic value statement or other. To the extent that the assent will not be forthcoming the economist as justificatory relativist can offer no rationally compelling argument in terms of given aims, ends or values of the addressee of the argument. His (or her) standard...
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