Sunday, November 16, 2003


I made the pleasant discovery recently that there is now a blog concentrating on analytical philosophy run by Keith Burgess-Jackson. I am pleased that there are still a few analytical philosophers about. I had the impression that most university philosophy departments had been taken over by devotees of Marx, Freud and assorted other quacks and charlatans. There are all sorts of "philosophy" around but analytical philosophy is the only sort that I bother with. It is the most academic sort and is more of a tool than an answer to life's big questions. It looks at what discourse implies so a background in it helps you to clarify your thinking on any everyday topic that you might tackle. Keith surprised me at one point, though, when he described "murder is wrong" as a necessary truth. I thought for a moment that he might be a moral absolutist (or more precisely, an ethical non-naturalist) rather than a moral relativist but I am pretty sure that the point he was really making is that murder is DEFINED as wrongful killing. So the statement is a tautology (repetition), not information of any kind.

I think his view of what economists do is largely mistaken, however. He says that economists should not engage in evaluative debate about public policy and would be wiser to confine themselves to statements about causes and effects among economic phenomena. But that is precisely what economists generally do. Mainly they just inform. They tell the politicians and the political campaigners what the consequences of a given policy will be and then ask: "Do you really want that?". For instance, a politician may advocate rent-control to help the poor but an economist will then point out that rent control will tend to dry up the provision of all rental accomodation -- thus hurting many of the poor who will then be able to find no accomodation at all. That SOUNDS like taking sides in a policy debate but it really is as scientific as any other application of rules. SOME economists do, however, take sides in a most disreputable way. Why does the name "Krugman" spring immediately to my mind?


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