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Is Economics a Moral Science?

Controversy

Abstract

Economics, to put it bluntly, is a moral science. Of course, this may sound brazen to some, especially to economists who are used to conceiving of their science as value-free. However, in making this claim, due caution must be exercised on several accounts. My concern with the moral basis of economics does not refer to moral conjecture or imperialism but to the epistemological status of economic science. It seems to me that the correct epistemological framework for economics is that of a classical practical science. This is not to imply, however, that economics is reducible to ethics. It only means that economics is not a value-free science. There is general agreement among scholars of the social sciences that the argument for value-neutrality has been settled. Unfortunately, economics—at least the mainstream of modern economics—has not yet resolved this question. My argument, in short, is that economics should be viewed as a practical science classically understood.

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