A Right to Do Wrong?

The latest in my series of blog posts based on discussions with Ethics & Economics Challenge students is up at e3ne.org. It's on whether it's possible for us to have a right to do wrong in some cases, i.e., for there to be some moral obligations that it is not morally permissible to enforce. A … Continue reading A Right to Do Wrong?

Adam Smith on Beneficence & Justice

I've recently begun the Ethics & Economics Challenge program with students at Merrimack Valley High School in Concord, N.H. We've been discussing what Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments can tell us about what types of moral duties may legitimately be enforced. I'm blogging my reflections as we go. Here is a selection from the … Continue reading Adam Smith on Beneficence & Justice

Emotion, Moral Intuition, & the Social Function of Literature

I was recently with a longtime friend who revealed that he does not believe in morality. He thinks the only ultimate good is his own happiness. Now, he tries to act in a way that others see as moral because he believes that that is conducive to his own happiness, and he acknowledges having emotions … Continue reading Emotion, Moral Intuition, & the Social Function of Literature

An Effective Anti-Romney Ad?

A colleague of mine pointed me to this anti-Romney ad, adding that he thought it was "effective" because of its focus on one compelling story. Have a watch: I did not find it effective. It does focus on one story, and it does make it sound like this person was made worse off by Romney. … Continue reading An Effective Anti-Romney Ad?

Adam Smith and “Adam Smith”

I'm sorry, but what does Michael Boskin's WSJ op-ed entitled "Obama and 'The Wealth of Nations'" have to do with Adam Smith? The first sentence of the op-ed is "President Obama should put Adam Smith's 'The Wealth of Nations' at the top of his summer reading list." Perhaps he should---but then again, lots of people … Continue reading Adam Smith and “Adam Smith”

“Neoclassical Liberalism,” Property Rights, and Capitalism

Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi have a thought-provoking piece entitled, "A Bleeding Heart History of Libertarianism," in the latest Cato Unbound. They criticize postwar libertarians (specifically mentioning Mises, Rand, and Rothbard) for seeing property rights as absolute and, in their view, regarding the welfare of the working poor as irrelevant to moral justifications for capitalism: … Continue reading “Neoclassical Liberalism,” Property Rights, and Capitalism

Honesty as a Weapon

One reason I support the "virtue" approach to morality is that, attractive as some moral rules are in the abstract, there are almost always cases in which good judgment requires either appropriate interpretation or even suspension of them. Take the moral rule that one should always be honest. Honesty is clearly a virtue, but it … Continue reading Honesty as a Weapon

Yuval Levin on Nicholas Phillipson’s New Book on Adam Smith

There is an interesting review in the New Republic of one of the new Adam Smith biographies (no, not Jim Otteson's new one, which I'm looking forward to reading).  I quite appreciated this part of the review: By turning the logic of mercantilist economics on its head and establishing a market designed for the good of the common citizen, … Continue reading Yuval Levin on Nicholas Phillipson’s New Book on Adam Smith

Klein, Adam Smith, and Overlordship

Economist Daniel Klein of George Mason University has been doing a lot of interesting work recently. Klein is an Adam Smith scholar in his own right, but he has also been encouraging his students to work on Smith as well. He has recently supervised two PhD dissertations on Smith: 1. Brandon Lucas recently defended his … Continue reading Klein, Adam Smith, and Overlordship

An Adam Smith Cornucopia

A couple items today on Adam Smith that I recommend: 1. A lecture from Daniel Klein, an economics professor at George Mason University, given at The Institute for Liberal Studies in Canada. Professor Klein's lecture is entitled, "Adam Smith: A Broad Interpretation of His Work and Vision." 2. A Russ Roberts podcast interview of distinguished scholar … Continue reading An Adam Smith Cornucopia

The Justified Punch in the Nose: A Libertarian Conundrum?

A principal tenet of libertarianism---perhaps even the first principle of libertarianism---is an injunction against initiating violence. Whatever else you do, you may not harm unwilling others. John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, Robert Nozick, and many others---I as well---have all subscribed to some version of this principle as a starting point.  Yet Adam Smith … Continue reading The Justified Punch in the Nose: A Libertarian Conundrum?

O to Be in Academia

When I speak to people outside of academia about some of the things that go on inside it, they often don't believe me. But I never lie about such things. Here is one of the stories people find hard to believe. I defended my dissertation in the philosophy department of the University of Chicago in … Continue reading O to Be in Academia

Singer to World: Drop Dead

A few years ago I was attending an academic conference in New Hampshire. At one of the dinners my pride overcame me: I told the attendees at my table that my wife had just recently given birth to our fourth child. He was an unexpected blessing---and I was beaming with happiness about it. One of the … Continue reading Singer to World: Drop Dead

A couple of reading suggestions given the Wilson-Jesus86 debate

1.  Matt Ridley.  The Origins of Virtue (and Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments) 2.  Robert Nozick.  "The Genealogy of Ethics" in his book Invariances.  I would enjoy hearing Sven's thoughts on these three pieces, not to mention anyone else tuning in to Pileus. Invariances is among the most difficult books I have ever read.  Fortunately, … Continue reading A couple of reading suggestions given the Wilson-Jesus86 debate

The Paul Millsap of Economics?

Even though I’m in the office working on a Saturday, I had a colleague (and fellow Jazz fan, incidentally) come by and berate me for comparing the great Bill Russell to Paul Millsap. Now, I’m a huge fan of Millsap—look at Game 2 of this series; he was the most valuable player on the floor—so … Continue reading The Paul Millsap of Economics?

Is Obesity Immoral?

In his recent column, Michael Medved raises the interesting question of whether America's increasing rotundity implies, given the ethic that our political leaders should "look like us," that more of them should be obese. Indeed, Medved suggests the amusing implication that in that case some 30 senators would have to be obese, and most of … Continue reading Is Obesity Immoral?

Was Smith right?

I've always found this to be one of Adam Smith's most powerful quotations: Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. But is … Continue reading Was Smith right?

Speaking of Manners – The Role of Liberty

Markets are frequently derided for causing greedy or other loathesome behaviors.  I'm more prone to believe that the problem isn't with markets per se but with human nature or bad character - unfettered markets, just like other freedoms, allow some of our worst side to play out rather than being the cause of this behavior (in terms of … Continue reading Speaking of Manners – The Role of Liberty

Parenting and Governing

What kind of adults do we want our children to become? Responsible parents ask themselves this question, and their answers provide principles that guide their parenting.  The federal government, however, is making it very difficult to be a good parent, because it systematically undermines so many of the lessons one wants to teach.  I want … Continue reading Parenting and Governing