The Good Old Chicago School of the 1960s and 1970s, and more so the failed nouvelle Chicago of the 1980s, pretended to be an ethics-and-politics-free zone. Friedman's blast in 1953 in favor of "positive economics" was of course on this count slightly misunderstood. It was not primarily an attack on ethics in economics-though that is one important way it has been misused, and was indeed so used at Chicago. The anti-ethical dogma of the 1950s, whether in the version of Friedman or Samuelson or Koopmans, was that we economists are scientists, which means not having to worry about goodness and badness beyond budget lines. This I adopted soon after getting into economics, and continued to espouse, though increasingly uneasily, for a long time. Forty-five years on I have come to believe something like the opposite. With Adam Smith, J. S. Mill, and Frank Knight, I believe that an economics without an ethical framework is a mistake.
But during the time I did believe the anti-ethical dogma of positive economics, what a relief! What a great simplification of a scholarly life! All that maundering over in the humanities departments about "values" could be omitted. Values! What does an English professor, wholly innocent of supply and demand curves, know about values?! No real economist should indulge in mere, stupid, superstitious "preaching." (Anti-clericalism, by the way, figures heavily in positive economics. I know because before I was a Christian I would pin pseudo or actual "religion" on opponents. Two of my heroes, Frank Knight and his prize student Jim Buchanan, exhibit anti-clerical aversion to ethical theorizing, though deeply ethical men.) Just the facts, ma'am. "Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts," said Dickens' Thomas Gradgrind. "Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of service to them." So the American and Dutch economists of the 1950s said. Forget about novels, plays, myths, religions, philosophies, music, art, except as inessential entertainments after work. We economists are social engineers, providing the government of the day with positive-science formulas on how to organize the railways and the rest of the economy in speeding the freight. The freight, for instance, to Auschwitz.
A long if superficial acquaintance with Milton Friedman of blessed memory suggests he would in fact have repudiated the dropping of ethics from an economist's life. Certainly he never participated in an economic project whose end he regarded as less than ethically good. I hear my friends on the left chuckling sardonically: "Oh, yeah, Deirdre? And what about Chile?" Yes, my dear friends: including Chile, whose Catholic, not state, university developed a relationship with Chicago, as Venezuela and Pakistan did with Harvard, when Chile was a democracy, not a military dictatorship (ditto for the Chicago Boys of Brazil). Milton never consulted with governments, any government, except his own in World War II, for the war effort, and never, ever accepted government research money, because he knew very well that governments, such as Pinochet's Chile, often do evil. His wife Rose was angry at him for decades over his role in introducing the withholding tax, that instrument of painless government expansion. But it was a war measure, and defeating Hitler and Tojo was surely ethical. (Still, he regretted the withholding tax.)
It ought to be more widely known that Milton detested authoritarian governments, whatever the price. Gale Johnson in economics at Chicago proposed for the Shah's Iran in the 1970s (before Pinochet in Chile and of course before the fall of the Shah himself) to start a program similar to the ones in Chile and Brazil. The plan was to bring to Chicago the brightest Iranian students of economics, who would then go home and raise the level of economic teaching there. The Department was enthusiastic. A lot of new money was in the offing: an endowed professorship, money to support more than the Iranian students. Everyone thought, "Great! Thousands of free lunches!"
Then at the faculty meeting in which the idea was proposed to the Department, Milton spoke-he was back temporarily from the Hoover Institution. "We can't do this!" said he in effect. "The Shah is a tyrant. We can't associate with tyrants." Whoops. End of discussion. Thousands of free lunches, alas, down the drain.
This was not because the Chicago economists followed everything Milton said. Chicago didn't. For example, just then a debate was raging about a "monetary approach to the balance of payments" that demolished Friedman's national money-supply ideas. Harry Johnson had invented it and Bob Mundell perfected it and McCloskey and Richard Zecher and Fischer Black adopted it. The monetary approach to the balance of payments is another one of those pretty good and very simple ideas at the heart of the Good Old Chicago School. But on the day, and about the Shah's Iran, Milton won the argument, instantly, because he was on this matter so blindingly, obviously ethically correct. Milton, you see, was the conscience of the Department of Economics.
You laugh. I see your point. An economics department is not famously a place for ethical reflection. But in the good old days of the Good Old Chicago School, I am saying, ethical arguments were not automatic losers. Nowadays they are, and more so as Chicago's simple ideas, spiffed up in Max U models in the style of The Foundations of Economic Analysis and Social Choice and Individual Value, and especially certain childish notions of ethics and scientific method derived from a hazily remembered reading of "The Methodology of Positive Economics," have taken over the Samuelsonian mainstream of economics.
At the January, 1997 meeting of the Executive Committee of the American Economic Association it was proposed by some outside naïf to form a committee to draw up a handbook on professional ethics for economists. The naïf pointed out that every other professional association, from statisticians to English professors, already had such a handbook. By the mere mention of ethics, of all things, the meeting of economists was stunned to silence. Then one of the committee members (it was not I) quipped, "Yeah, great idea. And the first rule in the handbook should be, 'Never predict interest rates'." Laughter (in which I to my shame joined). And that was the end of the discussion.
"But what of Friedman's amoral views of corporate governance? Bottom lines alone." Again I think it was some of the students of Milton, not the main man of the Good Old Chicago School himself, who got the ethics wrong. In a famous article he argued, as the title put it, that "the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits." 2 He argued that a society with more wealth can better pursue its transcendent goals, and that more wealth is produced by maximizing profits. It's certainly true, and is one crucial argument for capitalism. The best system for making the poor better off has not been the American Federation of Labor or the minimum wage or the Seattle protestors but the immensely larger pie produced by profit-seeking.
Milton also argued that a hired manager for Boeing who improves his social standing in Chicago by getting the corporation to give to the Lyric Opera is stealing money from the stockholders. That's right, too, though there's a contrary economic argument, namely, that the ability to play the noble lord with the stockholders' money is part of executive compensation. The stockholders would have to pay the manager still more than they actually now do in cash, or in fraudulently dated stock options, if they insisted that he not be allowed to give away the corporation's money to worthy causes.
But most people who have expressed shock or pleasure at Milton's article have not noticed that he added a constraint to the manager's fiduciary duty to the stockholders: "make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom."3 What's the beef?
Friedman certainly repudiated bad ethics in his own personal behavior. The fact is relevant because the Good Old Chicago School claimed in a confused way to be strictly behaviorist, and therefore a piece of evidence of one's own behavior was judged highly relevant. Such an argument is known in rhetoric as the "circumstantial ad hominem." That a socialist did not sell her goods and give the money to the poor was considered at Chicago an ethically relevant challenge.
The circumstantial ad hominem was used increasingly at Chicago in the 1970s to patrol borders. "Aren't you a real economist? Don't you believe that ethics is irrelevant to economic thinking? Are you some sort of philosopher, or preacher?!" An instance is Gary Becker's (Ph. D., Chicago, 1955) refusal in this textbook on economic theory (1971)-understood Chicago-style as applied price theory, by contrast with the disembodied proof-mongering of Varian, Mas Colell, and company that in the end conquered the graduate curricula, even at Chicago-to give welfare economics any space at all. He never talks of national income, for example, or consumers' surplus. The Chicago style in circumstantial ad hominem has spread to all of economics. In its crudest form the argument is used by people like Sandy Grossman (AB 1973, Ph.D 1973??, Chicago) to justify selfish behavior. "Our models say that people are selfish," the smart aleck economist declares. "Therefore I should not contribute to the common good of the Department. What. . . aren't you an economist! "
Russell Roberts (Ph.D. 1981, Chicago) proposed a few years ago a "Society of Real Economists" (SORE) devoted to three propositions:
Russ calls me a lifetime member, and with some philosophical amendments of point 3, I accept the honor. "You can be a member of SORE and be in favor of the minimum wage," writes Roberts, "because you think the benefits of helping some people get a higher wage outweighs the costs of some people losing their jobs or having a hard time finding a job because there are fewer opportunities. But if you support the minimum wage because it's important as a symbol of our desire to help people or because the minimum wage doesn't affect employment, you can't be a member of SORE." But notice, Russ, that you are adopting implicitly an additional, ethical Proposition 4: People should be serious about actually helping the poor, which is to say that they should not indulge a vanity about their charitable feelings, at the actual expense of the poor. It's an ethical principle denied by the prudence-only rhetoric of "aren't-you-an-economist?!"
Even many of Friedman's numerous enemies realized with irritation that he was a mensch: faithful, courteous, good-humored, egalitarian in personal and public politics, concerned about the actual welfare of the poor, willing always to afflict the comfortable, though not holding them in contempt just because they earned a lot. Some of the others of the Good Old Chicago School were like him in this respect. Theodore Schultz (1902-98, Nobel 1979) was, for example. Or Harry Johnson (1923-1977), a late recruit to the School. Robert Fogel (1926- ; Nobel 1993), too, was ethical in his person and in his science.
Above all Milton Friedman was willing always to argue, and, what is much, much more rare in academic life, to listen intently to your argument. It is an ethical matter, of course, this duty of the scholar to listen, violated by so many, though not too much by Ted Schultz or Bob Fogel. True, Milton was habitually tough on arguments he found shabby, especially in the matter of evidence and in the matter of one's scientific standing to have an opinion in the first place. I am told that in his last years when someone would genially note that he "looked well," he would turn and ask his great question: "How do you know? Are you a specialist in the diseases of old age?"
A raw assistant professor at Chicago, in September of 1968, was sounding off about the character of professional sports as a "monopoly." He had gotten the notion not from a serious inquiry into the elasticities of substitution between professional sports and other entertainments but from a misreading of an article by Friedman himself. The great man-already great, we epigones understood, even in 1968, when Chicago was still on the outs-turned and looked up at the assistant professor, asking his great question: "How do you know?" Sputter, sputter. The youngster could hardly reply, "You told me so, Milton." That would be to admit that he was the kind of young scientist who got information from carelessly collected hearsay rather than from scientific observation and measurement. It brought the young man up short. And it brought him up right.
The anti-ethical sub-theme in "The Methodology of Positive Economics" is much older than 1953. A philosophically sophisticated form of "positive economics" before Milton named it was born among the London School of Economics economists of the 1930s. And earlier. Political economy in the late 19th century regarded distributive justice in the labor market as the chief ethical issue. Collapsing ethics into the share of labor in national income, the rest of ethics was steadily, methodically set aside. Thus F. C. Montague, a professor of history a University College, London, wrote in the entry "Morality, Systems of, in Relation to Political Economy" in the 1894 Palgrave's Dictionary of Political Economy that "Political economy . . . . aims in the first instance at the explanation of a certain class of facts. . . . [Its] business is to explain, not to exhort. It is therefore beside the mark to speak of economists, as such, preaching a low morality or rejecting morality altogether." Gary Becker couldn't have put it better.
An airy dismissal of ethical considerations as beyond rational thought was a feature of logical positivism 1920-1940, and can be seen, too, in the neo-positivism of the 1890s. Ethics in the early 20th century, especially in England and Austria, was reduced to taste, or rather to "mere" taste, viewed as analogous to a taste for chocolate ice cream. Its economic version was the new welfare economics of Abraham Bergson and Paul Samuelson, Max Social U. The theory is called officially "emotivism," "the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference" (MacIntyre 1981, p. 11, his italics). They have nothing to do with reason, and are not to be cultivated, educated, discussed in the life of the Impartial Spectator. Or as Hobbes wrote in 1651-you see, emotivism is very old, found in some of Plato's characters, too-"Good and evil are names that signify our appetites and aversions" (1651, I, Chp. 15, p. 82; and I, Chp. 6, p. 24).
Most academics and other intellectuals nowadays, without giving it much thought, adhere to this emotivist, chocolate-ice-cream theory. They view the ethical person as maximizing her utility by the doing of good deeds, just as she does by the eating of ice cream. No duty, love, faith, or persuasion matters. We are to spurn the sort of amiable, casuistic reasoning together that the virtue-ethical and rhetorical tradition recommends, the trading of "more or less good reasons," as the literary critic Wayne Booth put it, such as the stories of good or bad lives ranging from the Hebrew Bible and Plutarch to the latest movie. No non-mathematical persuasion, please: we're positivists.
Economists in the 20th century were prominent in this attack by the secular clerisy on preaching the virtues. Mark Blaug, for example, in so many other respects a surprisingly sensible member of his profession, asserted in 1980 that "There are no . . . methods for reconciling different normative value judgments-other than political elections and shooting it out at the barricades" (1980, pp. 132-33). By "methods for reconciling" he appears to mean air-tight proofs such as the Pythagorean Theorem, not the reasonable discourse of impartial spectators, what Smith called the "faculty of speech" by which "every one. . . is practicing oratory on others through the whole of his life" (WN, p. 25; Lectures on Jurisprudence [1762-63], p. 352; cf. TMS, p. 336). J. A. Schumpeter of Vienna and Harvard had earlier expressed an ethical philosophy and a trivialization of language similar to Blaug's: "We may, indeed, prefer the world of modern dictatorial socialism to the world of Adam Smith, or vice versa, but any such preference comes within the same category of subjective evaluation as does, to plagiarize Sombart, a man's preference for blondes over brunettes." Thus also Lionel Robbins of the London School of Economics: "If we disagree about ends it is a case of thy blood against mine-or live and let live, according to the importance of the difference, or the relative strength of our opponents. . . . If we disagree about the morality of the taking of interest . . , then there is no room for argument" (Robbins 1932, p. 134).
The central dogma of modernism, Wayne Booth noted, is "the belief that you cannot and indeed should not allow your values to intrude upon your cognitive life-that thought and knowledge and fact are on one side and affirmations of value on the other" (Booth 1974, p. 13). Booth instanced Bertrand Russell as one in whom "passionate commitment has lost its connection with the provision of good reasons" (Booth 1974, p. xi; and Chapter 2). (Note by the way the self-refutation embodied in such a rule of method, the rule, namely: "You should not say 'should'." It is the philosophical flaw in the nouvelle Chicago-School rule against philosophizing. As Russell himself famously pointed out in another connection, self-reference leads to cycling self-contradiction. "All Cretans are liars," quoth the Cretan.)
Russell claimed to not allow values to intrude upon his cognitive life. But the task is impossible. A cognitive life, if it is in fact a life and not a mere computation, is ethical from top to bottom. All that Bertrand Russell's claim meant in practice is that he refused to allow his cognitive life to be in part about his values, his hope and faith and transcendent love, and therefore felt justified in indulging his unexamined values without the check of good reasons. And so the great mathematical philosopher applied low and sometimes no standards at all to his opinions about ethics and politics and economics. His friend George Santayana describes Russell during the Great War exploiting his retentive memory without ethical check: "This information, though accurate, was necessarily partial, and brought forward in a partisan argument; he couldn't know, he refused to know everything; so that his judgments, nominally based on that partial information, were really inspired by passionate prejudice and were always unfair and sometimes mad. He would say, for instance, that the bishops supported the war because they had money invested in munitions works" (Santayana 1943-53, p. 441).
The philosopher Hilary Putnam declares that "to claim of any statement that it is true . . . is, roughly, to claim that it would be justified were epistemic conditions good enough" and that "In my fantasy of myself as a metaphysical super-hero, all 'facts' would dissolve onto 'values.' . . . To say that a belief is justified is to say that it is what we ought to believe; justification is a normative notion on the face of it." 4 "Men demonstrate their rationality," wrote Stephen Toulmin in 1972, "not by ordering their concepts and beliefs in tidy formal structures, but by their preparedness to respond to novel situations with open minds." 5 It is the scientist's version of the virtue of humility. Such a definition of "rationality" casts in a new light the conventional philosophy of science about "rationally reconstructed research programs." The philosopher and social psychologist Rom Harré wrote in 1986 that "Knowledge claims are tacitly prefixed with a performative of trust." 6 Compare the virtues of justice and good faith. Mark Blaug, who as I have noted in other moods and in the same book supports the conventional philosophy of science, agrees: "there are no empirical, descriptive is-statements regarded as true that do not rely on a definite social consensus that we 'ought' to accept that is-statement." 7
The claim of neo-positivists like Blaug, however, is that we can hedge off the ethical claims of scientific practice from ethics more generally. The philosopher Daniel Hausman and the economist Michael McPherson assert that answers to questions of fact in science can be given by a social consensus "in which the answers are not influenced by any values apart from those which are part of the science itself." 8 As Andrew Yuengert puts it in quoting them, "This is a claim that economists who disagree on 'ethical' goals like commitment to the poor can still agree on shared standards of economic inquiry-parsimony, a commitment to mathematical formalism, and so forth." Yuengert and I do not think so. Indeed, as Yuengert notes, Hausman and McPherson themselves immediately criticize that version of the claim: "To speak of a 'value-free' inquiry," they write, "may be misleading. It suggests that the conduct of the inquiry is value-free. But the conduct of inquiry cannot possibly be value-free. Inquiring involves action, and action is motivated by values." 9
That's a very good way of putting it, and puts paid to positive economics. Justification is a normative notion on the face of it. Knowledge claims are tacitly prefixed with a performative of trust. Therefore a social consensus in a science, like a social consensus in a corporation or a marketplace or a political community, is motivated by values. Science presupposes virtues. The values of parsimony, mathematics, and so forth are not "part of the science itself" in a sense independent of virtues. If we want a real science we are presupposing real virtues.
The so-called "scientific method" is a fairy tale. Following it does not guarantee any science at all, as may be seen in the decline of economics into existence theorems and into t-tests without loss functions after Koopmans recommended it as the alleged method of science. Good science like other good human behavior depends on virtues, on human character. The idea is Aristotelian. As Ralph McInery puts it, "In the Ethics, Aristotle treats moral virtues first and sees them as dispositive to and presupposed by the intellectual virtues." 10 Thus we observe scientists with large ethical flaws, such as the great biologist James Watson or the great statistician Ronald A. Fisher or the great psychologist Cyril Burt or the great economist George Stigler, and are inclined to suspect their science. Our suspicions are sometimes confirmed. On the other hand we would be very surprised to find anything untoward in the work of great scientists we know to be good also in the ethical sense, whether or not we agree with them: in biology E. O. Wilson, for example, or in economics Thomas Schelling or Barbara Bergmann or Milton Friedman, or in history John Hope Franklin or William McNeill.
We can't have reasonable ethical lives, the virtue ethicists like Adam Smith claim, if we depend only on a narrow definition of reason. "But though reason is undoubtedly the source of the general rules of morality," Smith noted, without much optimism that "general rules" are much help, "it is altogether absurd and unintelligible to suppose that the first perceptions of right and wrong can be derived from reason" (TMS, p. 320). But such taste is emphatically not "mere" in Smith, to be determined like a taste for chocolate ice cream without education or reflection, as it is in Samuelsonian economics. It is rather the providing of good reasons, yielding "reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct" (TMS, p. 137).
The point I am making is that the Good Old Chicago School, despite its participation in the then-current anti-ethical theories of the positivists about the ethics of science and of behavior, was in fact ethical. You can't be a human and run things any other way. That is, I reject the hypothesis that Chicago-School economists are not human.
Now I admit that the younger Chicago School, nouvelle Chicago c. 1990, was consistent with just such a hypothesis. But I have come to have little patience with low-power arguments "tested" with spurious t values as merely "consistent with" a hypothesis. So, take nouvelle Chicago. Please.
Friedman and Stigler were the junior and technical branch of the Good Old Chicago School. Even they, I am saying, especially Friedman, can be accused of ethical thought. I once witnessed a little debate between Friedman and Stigler in the coffee room of the Social Science Building, which went in substance something like this:
Stigler: Milton, you're such a preacher! If people want free trade, they'll get it. If they don't want it, no amount of jaw-boning by economists will change their minds.
Friedman: Ah: that's where we differ, George. We both admire markets, but you think they've already worked. In this case the political market: you think what is, is an equilibrium of markets.
Stigler: And why not? People are self-interested, and they vote their pocketbooks.
Friedman: No, people are self-interested but often do not know what their interests are. They need education. The average citizen has no idea that a tariff hurts him.
Stigler: Education! Try educating a lobbyist for the sugar industry.
Friedman: As I said, that's where we differ. I'm a teacher, and I think that people do some things because they are ignorant.
Stigler: And I'm a behavioral scientist. I assume rationality.
Friedman: And I advocate it.
Stigler was by then consistent in his anti-ethical stand, namely, that what is, is. Earlier, in the mid-1940s, even before he was back at Chicago, as Levy and Peart have noted, Stigler converted suddenly from a Knightian ethical concern to a version of positive economics before the name. In his intellectual autobiography Stigler claims to have changed his mind only once, morphing from socialist to market liberal after ten weeks in a price theory course at Chicago, from Frank Knight.
The heart of Good Old Chicago School-people like Theodore Schultz and Milton Friedman and towering above all the blessed Knight-were ethical thinkers, and in Knight's case even in their own expressed beliefs about themselves. Economics in Knight's view was ethical all the way down. It is recent economists, not the old folks, who get this wrong, and believe the anti-ethical magic of "The Methodology of Positive Economics." Knight was saying as early as 1923 that "the nineteenth-century utilitarianism was in essence merely the ethics of power, 'glorified economics'. . . . Its outcome was to reduce virtue to prudence"(Knight, 1923, p. 62). Of this he did not approve, not in 1923, and even less so thereafter. In Knight's student. James Buchanan, as I say, you see still a deep ethics struggling with a superficial philosophical theory that ethics can have no basis except in taste.
The positive economists have usually believed, historically speaking, that economics came into the world ethically virginal. George Stigler famously asserted that "the Wealth of Nations is a stupendous palace erected upon the granite of self-interest" (Stigler 1975, p. 237). George was not a good reader. I think this was because, unlike Milton, he was unwilling to listen, really listen, to anyone but Gary Becker. No humility. So he spectacularly misread Ronald Coase, for example; and here he spectacularly misreads Smith. According to a hardened form of positive economics in 1975, a theory of moral sentiments may be omitted.
This reducing of virtue to prudence, and economics therefore to prudence only, was taken on most earnestly by 20th century economics. One sees it all over the place, in Robbins and Friedman, Pigou and Samuelson. Amartya Sen has pushed back at the prudence-only version of "ethics" that economists have come to espouse. In 1977 Sen commenced working his way out of a Max-U intellectual world in his "Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory." Economists think that "sympathy"-literally in Greek (which Edgeworth knew well) "feeling with"-is all there is to inter-human relations. I am sad because you are sad. So no problem: just put ethics into the utility function and proceed. But "behavior based on sympathy," Sen writes, nice though it is, "is in an important sense egoistic, for one is pleased at others' pleasure and pained at others' pain, and the pursuit of one's own utility may thus be helped by sympathetic action." 11 Sen argued that important realms of our lives are governed instead by "commitment." Unlike sympathy, a commitment reduces your utility, at any rate your first-order utility in the manner of ice-cream eaten or son's-college-degree-attained. In Kantian terms commitment is a duty. In virtue-ethical terms, commitment is a matter of justice, faith, and transcendent love. Commitment, in short, "drives a wedge between personal choice and personal welfare." "Much of traditional economic theory relies on the identity of the two." 12 In doing so, economics assumes a world without ethical commitment: "The purely economic man is indeed close to being a social moron." 13 Come to think of it, no "close" about it.
A case can be made that a flourishing human life must show seven virtues. Not eight. Not one. But seven. 14 The case in favor of four of them, the "pagan" or "aristocratic" virtues of courage, justice, temperance, and prudence, was made by Plato and Aristotle and Cicero and Hume and Smith. The pagan four are the political virtues, in many senses-for example, the ancient sense of contributing to the survival and flourishing of a polis, a small Greek city state.
The other three virtues for a flourishing life, adding up to the seven, are faith, hope, and love. These three so-called "theological" virtues are not until the 19th century regarded as political. Before the Romantics and their nationalism and socialism they were thought of as achieving the salvation of an individual soul. The theological virtues could also be called "peasant," to contrast them with the aristocratic four, or "Christian," without implying that Christians have been especially skilled at achieving them. But the theological virtues can also be given entirely secular meanings. Faith is the virtue of identity and rootedness. It is backward looking: who are you? Hope is forward looking: who do you wish to become? Both sustain humans, and indeed can be viewed, together with a love of the transcendent (for which the Christian Greeks used agape, meaning "appreciation love"), as the characteristically human virtues. A woman without faith is no person. She is as we say "hollow." A man with no hope goes home and shoots himself. And in a world in which God has died a human without some love for the secular transcendent-science, art, the nation, cricket-is not flourishing.
The four pagan virtues and the three Christian make a strange marriage, consummated in the middle of the 13th century by Aquinas in his astonishingly comprehensive analysis of the virtues. 15 The seven often contradict one another. No citizen of Athens, for instance, regarded love as a primary virtue. It was nice to have, doubtless-see the Symposium-but in no sense "political," and was devalued therefore in a world that took politics among free, male, adult citizens as the highest expression of human virtue. Love-even in its social forms emphasized in the 19th century as an abstract solidarity-begins as pacific, Christian, and yielding, quite contrary to the macho virtues of a citizen of Athens, Sparta, or Rome. Alasdair MacIntyre notes that "Aristotle would certainly not have admired Jesus Christ and he would have been horrified by St. Paul," with all their embarrassing talk of love. 16 The pagans were not lovelorn, at least not in their philosophies. The Christians were.
From about 400 BC to about 1759 AD the moral universe was described as mixtures of the Seven Primary Virtues, containing hundreds of minor and particular virtues. The tensions among the seven, and their complementarities, too, can be expressed in a diagram:
Minor though admirable virtues such as thrift or honesty can be described as combinations of the principal seven. The seven are in this sense primary colors. They cannot be derived from each other, and the other, minor colors can be derived from them. Blue plus red makes purple, blue plus yellow makes green. But you can't get red from maroon and purple. Honesty is justice plus temperance in matters of speech, with a dash of courage and a teaspoon of faithfulness. A vice is a notable lack of one or more of the virtues. Courage plus prudence yields enterprise. Temperance plus justice yields humility. Temperance plus prudence yields thrift.
The tensions and complementarities, I say, are embodied in the diagram. You can't just merge the virtues into a seven-argument utility function. That would be to reduce ethics to prudence-only again, by definition rather than by scientific fact. Love is not reducible to prudence, nor courage to justice, and so human life is tragic, facing incommensurate virtues and their corresponding vices. As Isaiah Berlin wrote, "Forms of life differ. Ends, moral principles, are many. But not infinitely many: they must be within the human horizon." 17
In ethical space the bottom is the realm of the profane, where prudence and temperance rule. The top is the realm of the sacred, of spiritual love and of faith and hope. Moving up is moving from self-disciplining virtues (prudence, temperance), whose main object is the self, through altruistic virtues, whose main object is others (love of humans; justice), and finally to the transcendent virtues (faith, hope, and love of a transcendent), whose main object are God or physics or the betterment of the poor. That is, bottom to top is the axis of wider and wider ethical objects. 18
Prudence and justice in the middle are calculative and intellectual. They have often been thought since Plato and the writers of footnotes to Plato to be the most characteristically human of virtues. They were glorified especially by the hard men of the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe fleeing from religious faith and hope and love. Immanuel Kant elevated a combination of prudence and justice which he called "pure reason" to the very definition of a human and a citizen. 19
By the grace of Darwin, however, we now see that calculative, prudence-only virtues are not particularly human. They can be found in the least non-human of beings, in ants justly sacrificing themselves for the queen, or dandelions prudently working through the cracks in the sidewalk. The terminology is of course figurative, a human attribution, not Nature's own way of putting it. But that is what we are discussing here: human figures of speech, since Nature Herself has no words. Natural history has taught us in the past three centuries, and especially since 1859, to realize that the lion is not actually "courageous," ever, but merely prudent in avoiding elephants, with a bit of justice to acknowledge the hierarchy of the pride.
Courage and temperance are emotion-controlling and will-disciplining, and therefore, we now realize, more characteristically human than prudence and justice. And the most human virtues, I say, are those secularized theological virtues, faith, hope, and love, providing the transcendent ends for a human life. The rest-even courage and temperance-are means.
The triad of temperance-justice-prudence near the bottom and middle is cool and classical, and therefore recommended itself in the 18th century to early theorists of the bourgeoisie such as David Hume and Adam Smith. Hume called them the "artificial" virtues, following in substance Grotius and Pufendorf, because they are the virtues necessary for the artful making of any community whatever. The coolness of temperance, justice, and prudence was particularly beloved by men who had seen or had vividly imagined their communities collapsing in religious war and dynastic ambition, of Jesuit and Presbyter, of Habsburg and Bourbon and Stuart. The excesses of faith and hope and the transcendent parts of love severely spooked the men of the 18th century. Both Hume and Smith had witnessed from afar, for example, the Jacobite rising of 1745, with nothing like sympathy-Hume and Smith were not wild Highlanders or Jacobites, and certainly not Catholics, but lowland Scots of a deistic or atheistic bent, who had made their peace with Englishry.
The other, "natural" virtues of courage, love, hope, and faith impart warmth and meaning to an artfully made community. Sometimes too much warmth and meaning. The Scottish followers of Francis Hutcheson admitted love, as benevolence, and admitted courage, as enterprise, but rather off to the side of their main concerns. They certainly had no business with hope and faith- Hume for instance being very fierce against their religious forms, "celibacy, fasting, and the other monkish virtues." Imparting warmth and meaning was decidedly not what the Scots of the Enlightenment had in mind. That is a later and Romantic project, and these were not Romantics.
Left to right in the diagram exhibits the gendered character of the virtues, masculine and feminine in the conventional tales. Left-right expresses the gender of the ethical actor, or subject. Women of course are supposed conventionally to think of the world from the perspective of right-side love, or of its corresponding vices, such as envy and jealousy. Men are supposed to think of the world from the perspective of left-side courage, or its corresponding vices of cowardice, vainglory, self-absorption, and so forth. Another name for the right side in the diagram is "connection"; and for the left, "autonomy." Frank Knight, who was more than an economist, believed that even ordinary human desires could be reduced "in astonishingly large measure to the desire to be like other people, and the desire to be different." 20 The theologian Paul Tillich called them "participation" and "individualization," and noted that there is a "courage to be" but also a "courage to be as a part," that is, to participate. Michael Ignatieff called the one side "connection and rootedness" and the other side "freedom": "a potential contradiction. . . arises between our need for social solidarity and our need for freedom." We have rights, which is a good thing, allowing us to achieve our left-side projects of hope and courage regulated by justice. But we need "love, respect, honor, dignity, solidarity with others," Ignatieff notes, on the other, upper-right-hand side, and these cannot be compelled by law. 21 Hence Hume's odd vocabulary of the "natural" as against the "artificial," law-enforced virtues.
The seven are, I claim, a roughly adequate philosophical psychology. 22 My point about the Good Old Chicago School? This: that in a confused way characteristic of social thought in the mid-20th century, with its heavy overlay of naïve positivism in various forms, the Good Old School-actually, Harvard's and Virginia's and UCLA's, too-was in such a thick way pretty ethical. And at the least it was ethical in the thin way characterized by the additional Rule 4 in Russ Roberts' Society of Real Economics: do what's really best for the poor, at any rate in terms of their incomes, not what makes you feel good as you read The New York Times of a morning in Starbucks over your macchiato grande. What went wrong, leading to the ethical monstrosities of recent economic thinking, against which people like Hirschman and Sen and Frank have been leaning, was the triumph of a strict Max-U of economics. At Chicago it took the form of nouvelle Chicago, but in origin it was Samuelsonian economics, the specialization of economic behavior-good or bad-down to formal models of prudence only.
Not many people at Chicago in 1968 thought that "economics" ? "constrained maximization models in overlapping generations." Friedman, for example, was notably resistant to calls for him to formalize MV = PT in Max U models. Nobody thought that Ted Schultz was somehow intellectually deficient because he never once set down a constrained maximization model of third-world peasants. The discussion at the Quadrangle Club in the late 1960s and 1970s was incessantly about economics, viewed not as statements of axioms and proofs but as economic ideas and economics facts, a physicist's view of science rather than a mathematician's. Downstairs in the bar the economists from the Business School and an occasional finance groupie from Economics discussed at lunch the formal models of finance being invented by Miller, Fama, Black, and Scholes. But no one-and certainly not the best mathematician in sight, Fischer Black himself-thought that formalization was the same thing as economic theory (on this point see the recent, splendid biography of Fischer by Perry Mehrling 200523 ).
But when Samuelsonian economics took over Chicago, as it steadily did under the rule of Becker and Lucas, an ethics of prudence-only drove out the other virtues. The virtues of justice and love and the rest were no doubt confused, occluded, obscured, politicized in the Good Old Chicago School. But they told nonetheless.
The main effect of positive economics has been to cut off ethical discussion before it gets serious. It has made the intellectual grandchildren of Samuelson and Friedman into social morons, or as Michael Polanyi once said about the effect of positivism on science, voluntary imbeciles. The two are connected, as Milton must have suspected when he linked them in 1953. Reducing economics to a simple behaviorism of Max U has elevated Max U to the arbiter of ethical life. It has been a mistake. Utilitarianism in the simple form espoused by such Chicagoans as Judge Richard Posner is a poor guide to life and policy, recommending rape licenses, the gutting of the Constitution, and in general the sacrifice of Ms. Buck for the benefit of Mr. Holmes. An economics that acknowledged all the virtues, such as Frank Knight tried to teach to Friedman, Stigler, and Buchanan, would get us back to the Good Old Chicago School. We could even bring along the math. But we can't bring along the reduction of humans to buckets into which utility is poured. That's not Real economics.
Let me come at the theme from another direction, that of what political scientists call (confusingly to economists) "political theory," that is, the philosophy of the good polity. Martha Nussbaum's book, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (2006), attempts to add the love of others to the accepted axioms of political philosophy. She criticizes on this count the strictly Hobbesian/ Gauthieresque contractarian's assumption of Prudence Only; or the Lockean/ Rawlsian contractarian's Prudence-With-A-Version-of-Justice. In a brief, bumper-sticker version of a complicated project, Nussbaum's book is about love-adding: bringing in our care for others from the start. She says that such a supplement will preserve the contractarian program in political philosophy-the masculine "strength" and parsimony of which she sometimes admires-yet yield a civil society that treats with appropriate dignity the severely handicapped, the old, the foreigners in poor countries, and the animals.
Throughout the book she defers to John Rawls, whom she evidently loved and esteemed. In criticizing David Gauthier's strictly economistic, Prudence-Only contractarianism, however, she makes a point which undermines Rawls and is I think very important in itself. I want to call it the Nussbaum Lemma:
The Nussbaum Lemma
I think it implausible [she writes] to suppose that one can extract justice from a starting point that does not include it in some form, and I believe that the purely prudential starting point is likely to lead in a direction that is simply different from the direction we would take if we focused on ethical norms from the start (p. 57).
The Nussbaum Lemma is profoundly right, and it is-as she shows in her book-devastating to the project since Hobbes in 1651 of pulling a just rabbit out of a purely prudential hat. You can't get virtue J from a starting point consisting only of virtue P. Virtue J has to be in from the start. You have to put the rabbits into the hat if you are going to pull them out.
A technical implication, and Nussbaum's point in effect throughout-although as I say she bows respectfully towards Rawls-is that the Lemma applies also to Rawls' argument. Prudence in Rawls is supplemented by the justice-imitating features of the Veil of Ignorance, similar to the Veil of Uncertainty in the writings of James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock (Buchanan and Tullock 1962). But as can be proven on a blackboard or in actual societies depending on one's intellectual tastes, it is implausible to suppose that one can extract full justice towards the handicapped, the globally poor, or the animals from a starting point that does not already include love of others and full justice, at the start, in some veiled form if you wish. That is Nussbaum's theme.
Another and less friendly technical implication is that the Nussbaum Lemma applies also to her own project in her own book. You can't stop with prudence, justice, and love of others. It is implausible to suppose that one can extract faith, temperance, hope, courage, the fullness of love (connection, including connection with nature, say, or science, or God, or the poor), and other qualities constituting as I have claimed human flourishing from a starting point that does not, in Nussbaum's words, "include them in some form." And it seems likely that attempting to do so will lead in a direction that is simply different from the direction we would take if we focused on ethical norms from the start.
What of it? This: political and economic philosophy needs to be done with all seven of the virtues, not merely with some cleverly axiomatized`` sub-set. My point, and Nussbaum's if she would but admit it, is that to characterize people with one or another of the boy's-own "models" said since 1651 to suffice for theories of justice or politics will not do. Characterizing humans as Prudent Only, or even as prudent and just, with love of others tacked on, will not do. People also have identities (faith), and projects (hope), for which they need courage and temperance, those self-disciplining virtues. And they all have some version of transcendent love-the connection with God, the traditional object, though as I say the worship of science or humanity or the revolution or the environment or art or rational-choice models in political science have provided modern substitutes for Christianized agape.
The usual reply, as Nussbaum notes, is that political theory is only concerned with the minimum conditions for a peaceful society. The other virtues are supplementary-thus the Humean terminology of "artificial" and "natural" virtues, following Pufendorf. But the reply does not appear to work. The artificial virtues of prudence, temperance, and justice regularly need the protection, so to speak, of the natural virtues of courage, love, faith, and hope. After all, that is Nussbaum's point-that a society without love of handicapped children or of the foreign poor is flawed. Often enough the flaw causes the collapse of the artificial virtues themselves, as when an unloving contempt for animals brutalizes a society in its attitudes towards human justice. Likewise, without what James Buchanan calls an "ethic of constitutional citizenship," a constitution that originates from merely the selected virtues of prudence and justice, even if cleverly axiomatized, will not survive. This pessimistic conclusion has been the theme of much of Buchanan's work, especially since the 1960s. The implication is that the virtues of faith and courage and hope must somehow arise to protect the constitution of liberty.
Beyond the "protective," ancillary role of the natural virtues in sustaining even the minimum conditions for a peaceful society, the entire set of seven virtues is necessary to get the project going in the first place. This is important. Full human beings-not saints, but people in possession of their own whacky and personal and, alas, often idiotic versions of all seven human virtues-are the only beings who would be interested in forming a human society. The point is similar to the one that the British sociologist of science Harry Collins makes about the ever-receding promises of artificial intelligence (Collins 1990). What we mean by human intelligence, such as the common sense that the AI group in Texas has signally failed to program, arises out of having been a human child. An automaton would have to be raised as a beloved child, with the DNA to respond, in order to have the full-blown human intelligence we seek to replicate. The zoon politikon, in other words, is a human, not an automaton, and has much more than prudence, justice, and a secular version of love.
To put it still another way, suppose you have in mind to make fully flourishing human being (or fully flourishing living beings tout court, if you include the animals, and even the trees). If this is your end, namely, a society consisting of such beings, then your social-scientific means must as Nussbaum says "focus on ethical norms from the start." You have to put the rabbits into the hat. In order to have a society that shows prudence, justice, love, faith, hope, courage, and temperance you need to arrange to have people who are . . . . prudent, just, loving, faithful, hopeful, courageous, and temperate "from the start."
The "start" is called "childhood," mostly ignored in Western political philosophy (it is not, by the way, in the Confucian tradition). A political/ economic philosophy needs to focus on how we get in the first place the people who are prudent, just, loving, etc., and who therefore would care about the capabilities of good health, emotional attachment, affiliation, etc., or about the appropriate constitutional changes to obviate prisoners' dilemmas, or about the categorical imperative, or about the greatest happiness. This is what feminist economics has been saying now for two decades, and what also comes out of some development [note the word] economics, and even, reluctantly but persistently and embarrassingly, out of such unpromising-looking fields as game theory, experimental economics, behavioral economics, realist international relations, the new institutionalism, and constitutional political economy.
The excellent little primer on ethics by the late James Rachels begins with a "minimum conception of morality" underlying any ethical system whatsoever. In describing "the conscientious moral agent" at which the analysis must begin Rachels selects unconsciously from the seven virtues. The conscientious moral agent will be in part "someone who is concerned [that is, who has love, connection] impartially [who has justice] with the interests [having prudence to discover these] of everyone who is affected [justice, love, faith]. . . ; who carefully sifts facts [prudence again]. . . ; who is willing to 'listen to reason' [justice plus temperance = humility]. . . ; and who, finally, is willing to act on the results [courage]" (Rachels 1999, p. 19). Since all this is quite an arduous task, a bonum arduum, as Aquinas put it, a hard-to-achieve good, he'd better have hope, too.
That is, ethics, even the political ethics we call political theory, must start from an ethical person imagined as The Ethicist or The Political Theorist---who turns out to have all seven of the Western virtues. The rabbits are already in the hat. Think of how impossible it would be to come to the conclusions of Kantian or utilitarian or Sen-Nussbaum or Buchanan-Tullock political ethics if The Ethicist or The Theorist did not already have the character Rachels praises of concern, impartiality, carefulness, humility, courage, and so forth. Frankly, my dear, he wouldn't give a damn.
The economist Mark White has arrived at a similar conclusion. He says that a Kantian ethical theory posits a prudential and an ethical self, the choice between them being determined by a probability, p, that one has the strength of character to follow the ethical self. This seems to fit Kant, and as White points out it also fits John Searle's notion of a "gap" in decision-making allowing for free will. One is reminded, too, of Stuart Hampshire's account of free will. But White realizes that something is fishy. "Is the probability distribution, representing ones character, exogenously given? Though that would make things much simpler, I should think not; it is crafted by our upbringing, and even to adulthood one can act to improve his character. Of course, this. . . [suggests] the question: to what goal or end does one improve character?" His reply is that "in the Kantian model . . . we assume that a rational agent's true goal is to be moral" (White 2005, p. 15). But that is the goal of being a virtuous person. The argument is circular.
Annette Baier made a related point, and one related to Nussbaum's project, about characteristically male ethical theories. "Their version of the justified list of obligations does not ensure the proper care of the young and so does nothing to ensure the stability of the morality in question" (Baier 1994, p. 6). It is not merely a matter of demography. It is a matter of more fundamental reproduction, as the Marxists say. Somehow the conscientious moral agent assumed in the theories of Descartes and Kant and Bentham and Buchanan and Rawls and Nussbaum must appear on the scene, and must keep appearing generation after generation. "The virtue of being a loving parent," Baier says, "must supplement the natural duties and the obligations of [mere] justice, if the society is to last beyond the first generation." Imagine a human society with no loving parents. We have examples in children war-torn and impoverished, boy soldiers or girl prostitutes. One worries-perhaps it is not so-that the outlook for them becoming conscientious moral agents, and making a society in which humans (or trees, for that matter) can flourish, is not very good.
What is required for any ethics, in other words, is a conscientious moral agent, a virtuous person. Virtuous: namely, having the seven virtues in some idiosyncratic combination. Kant himself said so. In his Reflections on Anthropology he praised "the man who goes to the root of things," and who looks at them "not just from his own point of view but from that of the community," which is to say (wrote Kant), der Unpartheyische Zuschauer. The phrase is precisely the contemporary translation of Adam Smith's ideal character from whom at least the artificial virtues are said to flow, the Impartial Spectator. 24 Adam Smith's system in The Theory of Moral Sentiments was the last major statement of virtue ethics before its recent revival in departments of philosophy and especially among female philosophers. Especially in Part VI of the Theory, added in 1790, he reduced good behavior to five of the seven virtues: prudence, justice, love ("benevolence"), courage ("fortitude"), and temperance (the last two being "self-command") (Smith 1759/90, p. 236). Hope and faith and transcendent love are absent, as monkish, but the ideal bourgeois he praises in the early pages of Part VI slips them in anyway, secularly, as Smith did in his own life.
By admitting that der Unpartheyische Zuschauer begins his system, Kant undermines it, since the impartial spectator is not derivable from maxims justified merely on grounds of pure or practical reason. Kant's system is supposed to ground everything in maxims that a rational being would necessarily follow. It doesn't. What Peter Berkowitz said about Kant's political philosophy could also be said of his ethical philosophy, that he "makes practical concessions to virtue and devises stratagems by which virtue, having been formally expelled from politics, is brought back in through the side door" (Berkowitz 1999). Or as the philosopher Harry Frankfurt puts it,
There can be no well-ordered inquiry into the question of how one has to reason to live [such as Kant's], because the prior question of how to identify and to evaluate the reasons that are pertinent [that is, those favored by a conscientious moral agent, the Impartial Spectator] in deciding how one should live cannot be settled until it has first been settled how one should live. . . . The pan-rationalist fantasy of demonstrating from the ground up how we have most reason to live is incoherent and must be abandoned.Frankfurt 2004, pp. 26, 28.
You might well say to all this philosophical heavy lifting, Valley-Girl style, "Duh! We need to raise children with ethical values? People need to be good already in order to want to be good? Double duh!"
I agree. But the intellectual tradition of economists since 1789 and of political scientists since 1969 does not wish to acknowledge-especially at the start-all the virtues in a flourishing being. It wants to start simply, with a nearly empty hat, such as "Pareto optimality," and then pull from it a complex ethical world. It wants to reduce the virtues to one, ideally the virtue of prudence, and derive the other virtues, such as a just polity, from the prudence. It does not want to talk about how we arrange to have on the scene in the first place an ethical actor who by reason of her upbringing or her ongoing ethical deliberations wishes the greatest happiness for the greatest number, or the application of the categorical imperative, or the following of constitutional instructions from behind a veil of ignorance.
It hasn't worked, not at all, this boy's game, and it's time that economists and political theorists admitted so. So-called "welfare economics" has recently shown some faint stirrings of complexity in ethical thought, as in the works of Amartya Sen, and more in the works of younger economists and philosophers inspired by his tentative forays. But most academic economists and political theorists, such as Buchanan and Nussbaum, continue working the magician's hat.
The hat does not contain a living theory of moral sentiments. Instead of a nice set of seven cuddly rabbits, the theorists have supplied the hat with a large, Victorian, utilitarian parrot, stuffed and mounted and fitted with marble eye. Sen complained of the "lack of interest that welfare economics has had in any kind of complex ethical theory," and added: "It is arguable that [utilitarianism and]. . . Pareto efficiency have appealed particularly because they have not especially taxed the ethical imagination of the conventional economist" (Sen 1987, p. 50). Time to give the dead parrot back to the pet store-though the economist/salesman will no doubt keep on insisting that the utilitarian parrot is actually alive, that Pareto optimality will suffice, that though the parrot appears to be dead, kapot, over, a former parrot, he is merely pining for the fjords.
Sen and Nussbaum have long advocated a minimum standard of human flourishing, that is, capabilities. It is a rich and Aristotelian list:
|How Nussbaum's List of Capabilities Lies Down on the Seven Virtues|
|Not dying prematurely||Justice|
|Good health||Justice, temperance|
|Secure against assault||Justice|
|Use of imagination||Hope, justice, courage|
|Emotional attachment||Love, faith|
|Practical reason||Prudence, hope, faith|
|Love of other species||Faith, temperance|
|Political and economic rights||Justice|
Justice figures in so many of the capabilities because Nussbaum wants them to be liberal-political, that is, agreeable to all, the result of an "overlapping consensus," as the liberal tradition and Nussbaum express it. Such artifice will require of course an other-respecting virtue named something like "justice."
But notice again: in order to have the disposition to work for this or that capability one has to have at the start the virtues of wishing and being able to do so. It is not enough to rely on prudence or justice or even love of others. Adam Smith writes in a well-known passage that if love for our fellow humans was all we had to depend on, then the extermination of the Chinese would trouble us less, really, than the loss of a little finger (Smith 1759 , p. 136; cf. Rousseau 1775, p. 121). It takes a sense of abstract propriety, he argued, a virtue separate from love and not translatable into it, to want to give a damn for a foreign people whom you have never seen and whom you can never love. The moral sentiment-I would call it a sense of justice, though Smith would not-impels the man within to scold a self that is so very selfish as to save the finger rather than the entire race of Chinese. "What is it," he asks, "which prompts the generous upon all occasions and the mean upon many to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? It is not. . . that feeble spark of benevolence. . . . It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast. . . . The natural misrepresentations of self-love can be corrected only by the eye of this impartial spectator," der Unpartheyische Zuschauer (Smith 1759/90, pp. 308-313). 25
But the same can be said of the other virtues. Take the actual person of James Buchanan as a case in point. It takes a character of hope, which Buchanan actually has on his better days, to have an interest in constitutional reform. It takes a character of faith to worry about the corruptions of Me-ism in American society. It takes a character of courage to stand against the Northeastern establishment in intellectual life. Characters-not wind-up toys of Prudence Only, or even prudence with a version of justice, or even of love of others-have to be in the theory and in the theorist's breast at the start. The hat needs to be full, full of rabbits or variously colored parrots as you wish, but anyway representing all seven of the virtues.
Economics since Bentham, and in sharp opposition to Smith, has been by contrast the pure theory of prudence. Econowannabes like political scientists and political theorists are thrilled when economists suggest that all you need is prudence. If the theorists find they can't get away with Prudence Only they add a mechanism in Rawlsian style to imitate justice. If they find they can't get away with that, they add love of others, as Nussbaum does.
All this "if they can't get away with" suggests, just as the Nussbaum Lemma asserts, that the project is mistaken. It is not a good idea to start with a parsimonious description of human beings. There is no "strength" in Ockham's Razor. Essentia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem: Essences must not be multiplied more than is necessary. All right, yes, one cannot but agree: no more than is necessary. But the Seven Virtues, or some other rich, Aristotelian or Confucian description of the flourishing life, are each of them necessary. To get der Unpartheyische Zuschauer, to get those capabilities, to get a minimally peaceful community, to get a constitution under which we want to live we need humans, we need humans, not wind-up toys or stuffed parrots.
A Virtue-Ethical Theorem seems to follow from Nussbaum's Lemma. Looking at the matter in the Nussbaum-Lemma way undermines invisible-hand arguments, which have so fascinated us since Mandeville. They do not entirely undermine them. I am not suggesting that we abandon the insights we gain from thinking of ethics at two levels, the individual and the society, and asking how the one level relates to the other. Relating one level to the other is an important merit of the Virginia School of constitutional political economy-though the School very much wants to get along on Prudence Only. As Smith said in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, to start where Mandeville starts, with selfish prudence only, will not produce humans (Smith 1759/90, pp. 308-313).
Oddly, the so-called Virtue-Ethical Theorem reinstates an older and simpler view of how to go about political philosophy. The wider our list of virtues for flourishing, or the wider our list of capabilities, and therefore the more rabbits, parrots, virtues we have to put into the hat at the start, the stronger is the Nussbaum Lemma. And therefore the more implausible does it become that some "immensely simple model" (as Bernard Williams once put it) will turn out to give a livable human society, as though from an invisible hand (Williams 1985, p. 127; cf. p. 197, "reductive theory"). Or a hat.
In other words, the civic republican notion that the way to have a good society is to arrange somehow to have a bunch of good people-which in the light of invisible hand liberalism seems primitive and moralistic and insufficiently social scientific-turns out to be much more plausible and scientific than we liberals thought. My "theorem" is that the more seriously we take full human flourishing the more true becomes Orwell's apology for Dickens' ethic: "`If men would behave decently the world would be decent' is not such a platitude as it sounds" (Orwell 1940, pp. 150-151).
In still other words, an economics or political theory that takes human flourishing seriously should start with the virtues-and finish with them, too, since by the Nussbaum Lemma they end up pretty much the same, and that is what we want in humans. To put it in terms that begin to edge towards Virginia Political Economy, the seven virtues are what a flourishing individual wants for herself. They are what she chooses, when she has the capability to choose.
Nussbaum and Buchanan and I start from an anti-utilitarian assumption that Prudence Only won't suffice. But neither will other little sub-sets of the virtues. It is humans who make and honor constitutions, not partial monsters. There is no point to the modern, post-Machiavellian/Hobbesian reduction of the theoretical project to a simple few of the virtues. The simple few lead to societies in which free riding and moral hazards are rampant. If we want flourishing people we need to raise up virtuous people. It's not such a platitude as it sounds.
A vivid realization that economists need to talk about actually existing politics is the great merit of the Virginia School of public choice. The school asks what governments can in fact do, considering that the governors have their own agendas-for example, the acquisition of large and secret bank accounts in Switzerland and the monopoly of violence at home to achieve them. Buchanan and friends are the reply to Nussbaum's nostalgia for collectivism.
But consider the Nussbaum Lemma and the Virtue-Ethical Theorem. Is a full ethics missing? "The Madisonian vision, with its embodied ethic of constitutional citizenship," Buchanan noted in one of his elegiac pieces after the 1960s, "is difficult to recapture once it is lost from the public consciousness" (Buchanan 1989, p. 372). Of course it would be easier to have the ethic of a constitutional citizen were one involved, as Madison and his founding brothers were, in making and defending an actual, new constitution. Still, Buchanan is rightly advocating an appreciation of constitutional issues, as against a game of maximizing within a given constitution, which he believes characterizes the Me Generation. He notes over and over again that "if we [in Prudence-Only style] are considering games with effectively large numbers of players, there may exist little or no incentive for any single player to participate actively in any serious evaluation of the rules," that is, evaluating the constitution of the game (Buchanan 1989, p. 370). There is no point in voting in a large election about the constitution if casting the vote costs even a tiny inconvenience, five minutes to go to the polls, a spot of rain, a longish line. He concludes that "participating in the discussion of constitutional rules must reflect the presence of some ethical precept that transcends rational interest for the individual" (Buchanan 1989, p. 371).
Suddenly we are back in an ethical world. "We remain," Buchanan wrote in 1992, "ethically as well as economically interdependent." 26 The most obvious sort of ethical precept, other-regarding, may not do the trick, since it inhabits only the middle regions of the virtue diagram: "The individual may be truthful, honest, mutually respectful, and tolerant in all dealings with others; yet, at the same time, the same individual may not bother at all with the maintenance and improvement of constitutional structures" (Buchanan 1989, p. 371). He plays checkers with a good will, refraining from cheating, say, but does not enter into the question whether the 10 x 10 board is better than the (long-computer-solved, if still challenging for real humans) 8 x 8 board. In other words, Buchanan's idea of "constitutional citizenship" is a transcendent ethic, at the top of the diagram of the virtues. We vote because we have faith in the traditions of American democracy or hope for its future or some less dignified yet still transcendent imagining, not because we irrationally expect to influence the outcome of a senatorial campaign in which 5 million other citizens of Illinois are going to the polls. Sic transit a rational-choice theory of democracy.
In 1989 Buchanan wrote that "Each one of us, as a citizen, has an ethical obligation to enter. . . into an ongoing . . . constitutional dialogue" (Buchanan 1989, p. 369). But where does the inclination to fulfill our ethical obligations come from? Not, as Buchanan shows repeatedly, from Prudence Only. He wrote in 1978 that "Homo economicus has assumed. . . a dominant role in modern behavior patterns" (Buchanan 1978,p. 366). He attributes the sad slip towards Prudence Only to larger polities, national politics-the K Street fishery, for example-and the "observed erosion of the family, the church, and the law" (remember: it's 1978). Is that right?
Buchanan is the greatest student of Frank Knight. Like Knight, he is essentially a theologian. . . who dismisses theologies. He has a tragic, Protestant vision, as Robert Nelson has described it (Nelson 1991). We are sinners in the hands of an angry God, and God has arranged all sorts of prisoners' dilemmas and free-riding problems to stand in the way of a second Eden that naïve optimists like Anglicans and Catholics think are approximately attainable. We may not in fact be among the elect. The more there are of us in total, the further we get from small congregations staffed with Puritans watchful of each other's behavior, the more likely is damnation. As early as 1965 Buchanan was asserting that "the scope for an individualistic, voluntaristic ethics must, of necessity, be progressively narrowed" (Buchanan 1965, p. 327). In 1978 he exclaims in anguish, "Is not man capable of surmounting the generalized public goods dilemma by moral-ethical principles that will serve to constrain his proclivities toward aggrandizement of his narrowly defined self-interest?" (Buchanan 1978, p. 366). But immediately he answers, No, not under the large-polity conditions of modern governments.
The underlying dilemma that Buchanan has been worrying about for so long is that although private goods are best provided in anonymous markets, public goods are best provided in face-to-face communities, two people playing checkers or two people married or a small town in Tennessee filled with Church of Christers. It is the classic dilemma of modern public finance, noted by Wicksell and the Italians students of public finance and James Buchanan. The only solution is ethical, and Buchanan is not optimistic about getting it.
But the paradox in economists like Buchanan or Tullock-this is my Nussbaumian criticism of the Virginia School-is that the ethical change that Buchanan in particular advocates to solve the large-polity problem, or the big change in institutions, necessarily supported by an ethical change, is undermined by the very Prudence-Only framework he brings to the task. That is, the rhetoric of Prudence Only corrupts the public discussion of getting beyond Prudence Only.
One of Buchanan's contributions to Prudence-Only theorizing, for example, was his 1975 paper, "The Samaritan's Dilemma," arguing that the Samaritan has every incentive to "pass by on the other side," especially if the road is thronged with passers by. But wait. The Samaritan in the gospel of Luke (10:33-34) did not in fact pass by on the other side, for reasons that had precisely nothing to do with prisoner's dilemmas or Prudence Only. That of course is the point of the parable. Suppose everyone around the Samaritan, and especially his professor of economics or of rational-choice political science or of law and economics à la Richard Posner, was saying, "Why be a sucker? Only a fool would bother to help this jerk, under Prudence-Only ethical rules. Come on, Samaritan, pass by on the other side." It's the effect of two centuries of Benthamism in economic discourse, which came itself out of a bourgeois turn in public rhetoric from the 17th century on. Perform, oh polity, cost-benefit studies of the draining of the Somerset Levels. Consider whether a friend is worth the bother. Don't be a sucker, or a hero, or a saint.
But why do we talk about ethics, or about getting lists of capabilities correlated with ethics, or about forming constitutions on the basis of ethics assumed at the start? We do so because we are exchanging persuasions in the way we exchange goods. Adam Smith spoke of the "propensity to truck, barter, and exchange," which Buchanan wishes to place at the center of economics, as arising from the "faculty of reason." So much for Prudence Only and the reason half of the Enlightenment project. But Smith added, and believed in, "the faculty of speech," which is the other, freedom half, persuasion's role in the economy, ignored after his death (Smith 1776, p. 25, italics supplied; cf. McCloskey and Klamer 1995: McCloskey 2007). We are, as Smith said, orators through our lives. We preach. And what we preach is the seven virtues.
Buchanan complains about "lawyers [turning to] economic theory for new normative instructions," by which in 1978 he probably meant that same professor of law and economics, soon to be Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, Richard Posner (Buchanan 1978, p. 366). But what has given Posner his influence-I mean aside from his crushing if regularly misled energy and brilliance-is his retailing of just those theories of Prudence Only to which James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock and numerous other of their colleagues have so notably contributed. Don't be a sucker. Defect.
We need direct ethical change, and that is to be achieved not by a Fifth Great Awakening but by the recovery of explicit and full ethical talk. Only that will protect the constitution, or result in wide capabilities, or give birth to a society of love. Buchanan dismisses direct ethical change with the anti-clerical's sneer: "Rather than hope for a 'new morality,' I shall focus on the potential for institutional reform that may indirectly modify man's behavior towards his fellows" (Buchanan 1978, p. 360). Hard-nosed and practical. Prudence only. No preacherly talk of ethical conversion.
But institutional reform, in turn, is only possible if we stop speaking of people as I'm-All-Right-Jack maximizers and start insisting that they are complete ethical beings. Not saints or heroes, I mean-this is in line with the 18th-century's construal of the bourgeois virtues-but anyway people trying to evince all seven, though often failing in a fallen world.
The change in the talk of professors won't of course suffice. People outside the academy, too, need to adjust their rhetoric to an ethical world, a world emptied of content by 20th-century "emotivism" in ethics and the long fascination in the West with prudence as a plan of life. But changing our ethical rhetoric inside the academy will help. "I am sure," wrote Keynes in 1936, "that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas," and so the subsequent career of Keynesianism showed, in its rise and in its decline.
John Adams doubted "whether there is public Virtue enough to support a Republic." By contrast, Madison expected political competition, like economic competition, to make it "more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried" (quoted in Prindle 2003, pp., 98, 70). Adams stands for a civic republicanism depending on individual virtue, Madison for a liberalism depending à la Buchanan and Tullock on constitutional structures. Either individual virtue is necessary for the polity to thrive, or else ingenious structures can offset the passions with the interests. I suggest that the only way we are going to get the ingenious structures of Madison in the first place is in a polity with the public virtues of Adams. And in turn the only way we are going to get public virtues is to start talking about them. Yes, if you insist on using the anti-clerical rhetoric of emotivism: we professors of political philosophy should "preach." Since when has urging virtue on our friends been a bad idea? Answer: since the clerisy in the West got embarrassed by religion. Get over it.
The analogy in ethical theory is the contrast between act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. Buchanan's example of playing a game within a given set of rules is act utilitarianism. And, as he has been explaining to us for fifty years, act utilitarianism has great problems. In a game of chess, for example, do you cheat when your opponent goes to the bathroom? The monster of Prudence Only assumed in most economic theorizing would. Therefore, says Buchanan, we have to rise to the level of rule utilitarianism. We formulate for ourselves and others by mutual constitutional agreement some extensive rules of the game. No cheating. A bishop moves on the diagonal. No adding dead pawns when he goes to the bathroom. No taking out a .38 and threatening him. It is Hobbes' and Locke's or Rawls' or Buchanan and Tullock's or Nussbaum's social contract (Buchanan 1987, p. 73).
But I repeat: why would anyone follow the social contract? The answer is not, as Hobbes supposed, Prudence Only. That premise of political and social theory doesn't work, as has been repeatedly demonstrated by the slow collapse of the rational-choice model in the face of the Folk Theorem and cross-cultural laboratory results, not to speak of the experience of actual governments. The answer is Buchanan's "constitutional citizenship." But in order for this in turn to work it must be supported by a third level, above the rules and constitutions, namely, educated character. Ethos. Ethics.
You can think about it in a little table, where the next lower solves the problem of a higher row:
Buchanan sometimes rejects ethical reasoning in terms that echo the so-called "emotivism" I mentioned, of logical positivism and other hard-nosed theories, such as Hobbes' in 1651: "Good and evil are names that signify our appetites and aversions" (Hobbes 1651, I, Chp. 15, p. 82; and I, Chp. 6, p. 24 repeats?). In 1975 Buchanan disdained ethical discussion as "pure escapism; it represents empty arguments about personal values which spells the end of rational discourse." We must proceed "on the presumption that no man's values are better than any other man's" (Buchanan 1975a, p. 89).
I don't think Buchanan could really have meant this. Emotivism is also called the "hurrah-boo" theory. Many "realist" thinkers, which is not Buchanan's party, have really meant it. Ethical and aesthetic preferences, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1902, are "more or less arbitrary. . . . Do you like sugar in your coffee or don't you?" (Holmes to Lady Pollock, Sept. 6, 1902 in Holmes-Pollock, p. 105). Hurrah. In the same year: "Our tastes are finalities" (quoted in Alschuler 2000, p. 24). Boo. In the fourth year of the Great War he wrote to Harold Laski, "When men differ in taste as to the kind of world they want the only thing to do is to go to work killing" (quoted in Luban 1992, p. 244).
I am saying that there is a tension in Buchanan's thought, this lack of comfort with ethical thinking in a man very given to ethical thinking. Like Frank Knight, Buchanan is an ethical thinker, "admittedly and unabashedly" celebrating, for example, constitutional political economy precisely for its "rationalization purpose or objective" (Buchanan 1991, p. 128). He is not by any means a laughing amoralist, with a preference more or less arbitrary, hurrah-boo.
A paper by Buchanan and Viktor Vanberg in 1991 declares that people's preferences have but two components, theories and interests. "A person may oppose the imposition of a highway speed limit because it is predicted to be unenforceable (a theory-component) or because he or she enjoys driving at high speeds (an interest-component)" (Buchanan and Vanberg 1991, p. 128). This is mistaken. There is also an ethical component: "High speed is good for the human spirit," the ethicist may say, or "No government should interfere." It seems apparent that human preferences are affected by ethical reasonings. The ethical component often has nothing to do with the person's own pleasures-she may not know how to drive, for example, or herself be terrified by high speed, but nonetheless advocate ethically speaking the right to high speed for others.
The reason the third, ethical component matters is that the veil-move in contractarian philosophy is supposed to leave only the theory component, what Buchanan and Vanberg call following Hayek and Rawls "the knowledge problem," since one does not know where ones interests will be located in the rule-guided world thus enacted. But the deduction is mistaken. The veil does take away interest, let us suppose. But it leaves theories and ethics, a knowledge problem and an ethical problem.
The point applies equally to Hobbes and Gauthier and Rawls and Nussbaum. The veil-move takes away particular, local, historical interest. That's good, and in particular it is just by a liberal, egalitarian definition of justice (not by, say, the justice of obeying your queen). From behind your veil you don't advocate slavery because for all you know you may end up as a slave. But as human beings actually are, and must be if the constitution is to endure, the veil-move leaves aside the ethical component, which is to say virtues other than a "justice" derived from tricks with prudence and dubious assumptions about attitudes towards risk. People after bourgeois English Quakerism detested slavery, and not merely because of an unsupported expression of taste, but for new and ethical reasons more or less cogent, elaborated in the past two centuries: "Slavery is inefficient"; "Slavery corrupts even the master"; "Slavery violates the categorical imperative"; "Slavery would not be chosen from behind a veil of ignorance." These are ethical positions, whose justification depends on a full human being holding them.
Buchanan had earlier written that it would be "empty to evaluate imagined social states without consideration of the structure of rights, or rules, that may be expected to generate them" (Buchanan 1975b, p. 208). It is what he and I would agree is wrong in Martha Nussbaum's book. We can call his assertion the Buchanan Lemma. One could use it to explain why one might not agree with Nussbaum's statist /NGO-ist proposals for foreign aid.
But, as in Nussbaum's case, our new Lemma applies to the very writer who formulated it, namely, Buchanan. Nussbaum returns thereby the critical favor. It would be empty to evaluate imagined constitutions, say Nussbaum and McCloskey, without consideration of the structures of ethics that may be expected to generate them.
I am advocating what can be conceived of as the next step in Nussbaumian capabilities or the next step in Buchananesque constitutional reform: namely, taking all the human virtues seriously. You could call it a humanistic science of economics, gradually emerging from the slow, dignified, and long-awaited collapse of the Samuelsonian program. It might be called the "second-stage classical economics" that Vivian Walsh recently advocated, because after all it was in fact the program of the blessed Adam Smith (Walsh 2000). Or it might simply be called "Smithian," as Dan Klein says. Or, as Bart Wilson says (and here I rest), "humanomics."
Buchanan has long argued that to do economics we don't need Samuelson's or Arrow's Max U, that strange character obsessed with prudence only (Buchanan 1964). Smith didn't need it, for example. Keynes didn't need it. Hayek didn't need it. The Samuelsonian program was initiated by an amazing paper by a very young Samuelson in 1938 on revealed preference and fully launched in his modestly entitled Ph.D. dissertation of 1947, The Foundations of Economic Analysis, followed shortly by a book by his brother-in-law Kenneth Arrow, which Buchanan harshly reviewed on the same grounds that I don't like it. Samuelson founds economics on maximizing individuals. In the political sphere, articulated first by A. C. Pigou in the 1910s and 1920s at Cambridge and then mathematized in the 1930s by Samuelson's friend at Harvard, Abraham Bergson, and by Brother Arrow, maximizing societies depend on maximizing individuals. Not so, said Buchanan.
They are not merely "individuals," note. I am not here criticizing methodological individualism. They are maximizing individuals. The mathematics of maximization, a mathematics already a century and a half old in the 1930s, became the dominant tool of economists after Samuelson (John Hicks had independently invented it in England). By the 1970s some economists, who themselves rose to dominate this part of the profession, demanded that everybody found even the study of inflation, unemployment, and growth, namely, macroeconomics, on "micro-foundations," that is, on the Samuelsonian method of Max U. It didn't work, but it is still taught with the utmost rigor in graduate programs in economics. In the same decade another group of economists, who later came like their teachers to dominate the rest of the profession, demanded that everybody found the study of face-to-face interactions, namely, bargaining situations and the faculty of speech, on game theory, that is, Max U in another guise. That didn't work, either, though again it resulted in a gratifying large number of endowed chairs for bright young men.
Buchanan and a small group of other economists, including latecomers to this campaign like Sen and me, say that Max U is "close to a social moron," as Sen put it once, not a suitable character on which to found a social science. We are not attacking mathematics or methodological individualism. These have their faults, but they have their virtues, too. We say merely that economics or political philosophy should not be about a dubious individual psychology, proven mistaken over and over again in the laboratories, or about a desperately partial ethics invented by some very bright theorists in early modern times but not therefore to be judged adequate for all time. Economics should be about exchange, and political philosophy should be about the conditions for making and keeping constitutions.
In other words, the very formulation of economic theory, and the more so the very formulation of political theory, as a constrained maximization problem or as a non-cooperative game or as micro-foundations of macroeconomics makes it impossible to take other virtues seriously. It's Bentham's move, in Chapter N of his volume of 1789. You therefore find economists and evolutionary psychologists and the like saying, for example, that "love" (they commonly use the scare quotes) is merely getting the most for yourself, even if by the intermediate step of getting something for the beloved. Or you find them claiming the justice will spring from a group of Max Uers. Buchanan and company reject Max U. My point is that in doing so the Buchananites create a space for a full ethics, which they sometimes admit. Indeed, only a non-Max U economics has such a space. The kiss of Bentham is the kiss of death to a humanistic science of economics or an adequate political theory.
The argument here that we need to re-ethicize the social sciences, and get to a humanomics, I am very willing to admit, has its own unresolved tensions, chiefly: by what mechanisms do I imagine that the next ethical step will take place? If our hope must rest partly in ethical change, what is the basis for the hope?
One small contribution that we ex-Samuelsonian economists and Good-Old Chicago School economists can make is to stop talking of Prudence Only, as Buchanan does, as the ideal constitution of liberty. It is not, and economists and calculators have done damage by obsessing on it all these years since Paul Samuelson first mathematized it, or since Jeremy Bentham first formalized it, or since Bernard Mandeville first put it into verse, or since Hobbes first declared it the natural law of humans, or since Machiavelli first whispered it in the ear of the prince. A contribution the non-economist clerisy can make to an ethical change is to cease talking of voluntary exchange as exploitative, or as easily second-guessed by the better Swedish bureaucrats, as Nussbaum does. Prudence Only at the level of an ideal bureaucracy is just as partial and unethical as Prudence Only at the level of individual motivation. We need to inquire into how to make good people, including our governors, in the world as it is.
The choice of an ethical character is so to speak a within-person constitutional choice. We should be investigating how to produce good people, because good people make good political and economic choices. After all, flourishing lives for human beings, and for the animals and plants we care for, too, is what we seek.