Frédéric Teulon

Seemingly, the economic relations have nothing to do with the morality. The economy claims to be able to be a science; yet in the other scientific disciplines one does not arise this type of questions (we do not wonder if the physics of particles is moral either or not or if the composition of such molecule obeys ethical principles. The analysis led here on Bernard Mandeville’s papers which showed the ambiguous relationships which the vice maintains with the virtue. However the paradox is that the economy cannot work without a certain shape of morality. The economy is made by individuals endowed with a capacity to know right from wrong. While the economy and capitalism may be amoral, individuals are not.

2 thoughts on “Frédéric Teulon

  1. shinichi Post author

    Ethics, moral philosophy and economics

    by Frédéric Teulon

    Do we need to arbitrate between prosperity and transgressions against virtue?

    Who needs to be moral?

    Is there a contradiction between efficiency and morality?

    Does morality concern all economic activities or is it restricted to forms of distribution as enacted by the government?

    Can we moralise with respect to capitalism?

    Is socialism viable if citizens are not ready to put public interests before their own self-interest?

  2. shinichi Post author


    Economics claims to be a science and therefore detached from value judgements. Its obsession is to be like the natural sciences, despite the fact that it is of a profoundly different nature. It asks us to remain objective and to avoid adding moral or subjective appreciations to the equation. Robbins (1920) reminds us that: “Economics deals with ascertainable facts; ethics with valuations and obligations. The two fields of inquiry are not on the same plane of discourse. Between the generalisations of positive and normative studies, there is a logical gulf fixed which no ingenuity can disguise and no juxtaposition in space or time bridge over.”

    However, while the optimisation of resources is ultimately intended to provide a certain social wellbeing, the way the economy works does not need to be regulated through axiological criteria. Judging the means rather than the ends, economic theory is largely amoral. Economic agents can disregard the moral or immoral nature of their business conduct. Economic relations are not based on respect for moral obligations. Many situations that appear as grossly unfair (absence of equal opportunities, birth-related inequality…) may prove to be drivers of economic dynamism.

    An economy cannot function properly without at least some moral values. Theory may reduce economics to ties between production and consumption, but in reality it is principally based on relationships between individuals. We can challenge the notion that economic laws resemble the laws of physics (we need to emphasise the historic and moral dimension of human relations).

    Capitalism is based on the idea that anyone and everyone can grow rich. But once the potential to increase wealth is regulated, the conciliatory character no longer operates. If Jesus had told his disciples that places were reserved in advance, he would have had a lot less success!

    All morals are based on intangible principles, and we cannot separate them from economics unless we refuse to align the latter with all that is human. Respect for a certain number of basic values (keeping one’s word, honesty…) is necessary to ensure the smooth running of a country. In other words, the day that economics no longer has any form of moral basis will be the day that human beings are replaced by androids!

    The concept of relativism, sometimes referred to as postmodernism (Kuhn, Feyerabend and Hübner), is very popular at present: values are uncertain, objectivity is an illusion, and collective beliefs can be put down to cultural traits. These relativist theories contradict basic sociological observations (Boudon, 1995): today, as yesterday, individuals have strong moral convictions. We must not abandon notions of truth. Theft and fraud go against the touchstone of reciprocity which prohibits pure appropriation of others’ goods. Theft is wrong because social order is based on the notion that all reward should, in theory, correspond to a contribution. It is imperative to strengthen the ethical values that we can all share. The use of ethical discourse as a set of moral principles presupposes that we are all bound by a mutual understanding of what they imply.


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