Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Economics and ethics: a historical approach

Ciani Scarnicci, Manuela (2012): Economics and ethics: a historical approach.

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Abstract

Amartya Sen (1933-) is one of the greatest scholars who studied the relationship between ethics and economics and was held the Nobel Economics Prize thanks to this. At the awarding of the Nobel prize, while talking about his studies, the motive was: “...has been highly instrumental in restoring an ethical dimension to economics and related disciplines”. Precisely the theories of this binomial taken from the work of A. Sen “Economics and Ethics” are the basis of this work. Thanks to A. Sen there is proof that there has been a strong detachment of economics from ethics and this is to be considered as one of the greatest lack of the modern economic theory. The basis of the argument of the Nobel Prize winner is the idea that economy can be made more productive in paying more attention to ethical considerations which determine human beings’ behaviour and judgement. Sen, affirms that the predominant economic theory is the one based on individual interest aimed at the maximization of one’s own benefits, yet there aren’t proofs that this maximization is present in any choice of men. Moreover, it is not true that by only following one’s own interest it is possible to reach excellent economic trends. Adam Smith’s theory itself on self- interest, if careful interpretation is provided, do not represent a support for the defenders of human behavior which is only moved by self-interest. Obviously, there might be peculiar situations too where self-interest might lead to ethical approaches. Ethical economics is based on the behavior that individuals exercise in doing business practices. It is then useful to understand what causes such behaviors, therefore it is important to retrieve an interdisciplinary economic study, as Robert Skidelsky claims in his work “The return of the Master”. In this script he tries to give a perspective on the reasons which push an individual towards justice and equity. This dissertation arises from the theories of a few great political philosophers who found their teachings not only on the intrinsic reasons of the human nature but also on the role a State must have to make possible for a civil society to exercise those principles previously said. All the authors considered assume that the individual is a social animal and so the latter is analyzed and studied as integrated in a social context .

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