Ethics, Economics, and Politics: Principles of Public Policy

Ethics, Economics, and Politics: Principles of Public Policy

Ethics, Economics, and Politics: Principles of Public Policy

Ethics, Economics, and Politics: Principles of Public Policy


This book studies the interfaces of ethics, economics, and politics. Public policy issues involve all three of these subjects. Although it may be seen as suggesting the nucleus of a joint university course, the book is accessible to and should interest all those concerned with politicaldecisions. Any such decision needs a criterion for judging whether one action or outcome is better than another. Even a dictator must to some extent be concerned about the economic elfare of the citizens; and a democratic government more so. But how is a person's economic welfare to be judged?Furthermore, any political decision affects the economic welfare of different people differently. How then is the welfare of a community to be judged? This is an ethical question. Underlying any coherent public policy there must be a relevant moral code.


This book studies the three interfaces of ethics, economics, and politics. Any well-considered view of the most desirable role for the State in various aspects of our lives implies some serious thinking about these subjects, and the way in which they interact. This can be done without academic training in any of them. Therefore, this book is intended to inform not only students but also any person with an interest in public affairs.

I believe that many universities now have joint schools including at least two of the three subjects. A few have a school comprising all three, including Yale and Oxford. Oxford has long had a school known as PPE (philosophy, politics, and economics), but the teaching and exams have not been planned to emphasize the relationship of the subjects to each other. A more integrated school would always have been possible, but I believe that recent thinking in these subjects, in the past 25 years, has made this interdisciplinary possibility more exciting.

Each of our subjects can be divided into branches. Some of these branches of any one subject are closely related to other subjects, others less so or hardly at all. Let us glance at our subjects with this in mind. The branches of philosophy that will almost exclusively concern us are moral and political philosophy. We shall be discussing their relationship to politics and economics at length. However, if we confine ourselves to these branches what have we left out, and can we justify this neglect?

The other most important branches of philosophy are epistemology and logic. These are concerned with knowledge, truth, and meaning. In some sense every branch of knowledge, every science, presupposes that knowledge can be acquired, that propositions can be true or false, and sentences understood. But there is no special relation to economics or politics. We shall not be concerned with epistemology or logic because they are too profound. These apart, almost every field of enquiry generates books and articles entitled The Philosophy of ——, where the blank may stand for history, law, mathematics, religion, the physical, and social sciences, and indeed economics. These philosophies are concerned with the concepts, methodology, and the explicit or implicit assumptions of

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