McCloskey on Philosophy
Economists often concentrate on narrow technical specialties. In doing so, they sometimes fall into philosophical errors, because they uncritically take for granted assumptions that are philosophically mistaken or at least controversial.
The most common instance of this is familiar. Many economists assume that normative judgments, as opposed to descriptive ones, are subjective. It makes no sense, they think, to claim that our moral judgments are true or false. “The demand curve slopes downward to the right” is true, but “killing the innocent is wrong” is not, even though many people accept this judgment. Not that these economists think “killing the innocent” is false: it’s just that truth and falsity are the wrong predicates to use when assessing value judgments.
I’m not going to argue against this position here, though I think it’s mistaken. The point I’d like to stress is different. The economists who hold this view don’t realize that it’s controversial and needs to be supported by argument. They think that “everybody” knows that normative judgments are subjective and that they are just reminding us of something obvious when they say it. Had they looked at the philosophical literature, they would have quickly discovered that many philosophers reject their view and defend moral objectivity, on various grounds. It’s not that no one defends the subjectivist view; quite the contrary. But because they don’t know the state of play in philosophy, t
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