Exploring moral components of economic theory and analysis

A conference in Warsaw, Poland on 9 November 2018

Go to conference website

Modern economics began as a moral science. Adam Smith was a moral philosopher whose economic reflection was interwoven with philosophical and ethical enquiry. Economics used to be seen to operate within ‘the law of nature’, or treated as part of jurisprudence, which, in turn, had its roots in moral philosophy. Later, after having embraced natural science’s methods and positivistic claims of fact/value distinction, economics came a long way toward scientific neutrality. This was especially true on moral issues. While Ricardo’s claim that political economy is ‘a strict science like mathematics’ finds few supporters today, there remains a strong methodological tendency toward positivism in the discipline.

Over the past fifty years, mainstream economics has come under considerable criticism from humanists over the apparent lack of ethical concern in the discipline. While there have been increasing debates over ethical aspects of economic policies and outcomes, much less attention has been paid to the moral dimension of the questions, the methods, and even the goals of economics itself.

Thus, this conference has two aims. First, to focus on the implications of this distinctive narrowing in the scope of economic theory to economic methodology. Second, to explore moral components of economic theory and analysis which could be integrated systematically with analytical thought rather than being treated as mere add-ons.

We invite economists and philosophers to reflect on contemporary perspectives in and about economics, in order to reclaim the moral character of the field of economics.

Confirmed keynotes:

  • Prof. Łukasz Hardt (Warsaw)
  • Prof. Geoffrey Hodgson (Loughborough University London)
  • Prof. Arjo Klamer (Rotterdam)
  • Prof. Péter Róna (Oxford)

Call for papers

Short papers are invited on topics relevant to the conference theme. These should discuss various perspectives within which economics could be viewed and practiced as a moral science. Papers are to be delivered in parallel sessions of 30 minutes (20-minute paper, 10 minutes discussion).

Those wishing to contribute a paper should submit:

  1. Full name
  2. Institutional affiliation
  3. Paper title
  4. An abstract of up to 500-words that summarizes the key points and indicates its scholarly backdrop.

Submissions should be sent to: [email protected]  with the subject line: ‘Economics as a Moral Science’.

Closing date for abstract submissions: Monday 13 August 2018

Notification of acceptance: Friday 31 August 2018

Topics for consideration:

Human and non-human agency in economics:

  • Could economics benefit from understanding the economic agent as a moral person?
  • Causation theories and causal mechanisms vs. human agency
  • Economic and non-economic rationality
  • Practical vs. instrumental reasoning

Nature and evolution of morality:

  • Human moral nature and its implications for economic theory
  • Moral vs. self-interested motivations – false dichotomy?
  • Should economics limit its focus to self-interested behavior?
  • Is there a place for natural law in economics?

Modelling morality:

  • Moral behavior in models – mere entry in utility functions?
  • Normative content of economic assumptions
  • Moral motivation in economic theory (e.g. theory of the firm)

Human values vs. economic goals:

  • Value judgments and methodological choices
  • What makes value judgments legitimately scientific?
  • Positive-normative economics dichotomy
  • Objectivity in economics

The list of topics is not exhaustive. Other related questions are welcome.

Select papers will be published in an edited volume.