Academic journal article American Economist

Some Ethical and Methodological Convictions

Academic journal article American Economist

Some Ethical and Methodological Convictions

Article excerpt

E. Malinvaud [*]

The essays published in this series are sorts of autobiographies by academic economists about their scientific motivations and their professional life. This will also be the case here. I shall make an honest attempt at taking a philosophical stance and considering economics from the two standpoints of ethics and methodology, the only realms of philosophy about which I have definite ideas on how to apply them in my field. I shall try to avoid as much as possible repetitions of details, reported in what I wrote not so long ago about my main contributions to our discipline for a series of "recollections on professional experience" (Malinvaud, 1987). This essay is not the place for lengthy arguments for my ethical or methodological positions, which a philosopher would find neither original nor deeply rooted in anything other than the environments in which I was born, grew up, and worked. Thinking that these environments may be unfamiliar to American readers, I shall briefly characterize them when necessary.

Initial motivations

At the age of thirteen, I was taking the regular curriculum, along with Latin and Greek, at the "lycee de Limoges," the public high school of Limoges, a provincial, somewhat industrial town in a mostly rural area. A good deal of my spare time was spent as a Christian boy-scout, sharing the enthusiasm about the movement that was frequent in those years. My family was loving and secure. My father was a lawyer with socialist ideas, who married late because of the premature death of his own father, the ensuing lack of resources during his beginnings as an independent attorney, and the First World War. Limoges was well known in labor movements because it was the place where was instituted the very active union CGT whose leaders later had joined the Communist party. The local industry had been hit badly by the Great Depression. I could directly see strikes as well as hardship resulting from unemployment. My curriculum and teachers totally ignored the social sciences. Social phenomena appeared only occasionally and indirectly in our courses involving French, Latin and Greek literature, or history.

During those years as a teenager I became conscious of a main ethical principle which was underlying the visions and projects I formed about my future: since I was so fortunate, I had to accomplish something which would be useful to those less fortunate. I was certainly eager to know and to understand, but before anything else I had to serve.

When I reached the age of twenty-one in 1944, I was living at "Ecole Polytechnique," learning mathematics and its application in the physical world. I had already decided to somehow specialize in the study of economics. How did this come about? Graduating from high school in 1940, I had chosen to enter the special classes to prepare for the competitive examinations selecting students admitted to the scientific "Grandes Ecoles." This was a choice of reason rather than inclination. I felt I was performing better in sciences than in letters or philosophy. But I had kept open the option of becoming a lawyer. I had registered as a student in law, which I could do without attending classes, simply by taking the summer exams in whatever year I would feel ready after independent study of the manuals. The curriculum of each of the three years leading to the BA degree included economics. The manuals in economics were descriptive rather than analytical, but immediately attracted my interest, as they dealt with phenomen a that I knew were important in people's lives.

In addition to Limoges industrial workers, many small poor farmers were still populating the countryside, and refugees had flown from Alsace in 1939 after forced evacuation of their villages neighboring the German border, as decided by the French military authority. In subsequent years, the disorganization of the economy in occupied France, food shortage, and the like added to my direct experience underscoring the importance of the economy. …

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