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The “Dismal Science” Done Differently (ICIC357/358 Philosophy of Economics)

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The “Dismal Science” Done Differently (ICIC357/358 Philosophy of Economics)

By Asst. Prof. Dr. Daniel Pellerin

The very title “Philosophy of Economics” can present an obstacle to some: students who are drawn to philosophy are often averse to anything suggestive of calculation, and those with more economic inclinations may dread the philosophy. (“Behavioral Economics” may look just as forbidding, and I stumbled over it myself at first, well-established as it is.) But there is no need to worry so much, really: I approach the economic dimension from the humanities side, teaching it conceptually rather than mathematically; and the philosophy, while no doubt challenging in parts, is something that we develop together by thorough discussion in class.

Asst. Prof. Dr. Daniel Pellerin

Our program requires all students in the Ethics, Philosophy, and Economics concentration to take this course; but one could go much further. The ideas that we will be exploring are so fundamental, I would say, that without them one can hardly make sense of the world we live in at all. The division of labor and the basic logic of trading for mutual advantage; the role of scarcity and dispersed knowledge in structuring our choices; the need to keep in mind the invisible, indirect consequences of the economic decisions we make, as against the most immediate and easily seen ones that usually monopolize our attention; perhaps most urgently of all, the importance of recognizing opportunity costs and prioritizing intelligently if we want to make ourselves as well-off as our ever-limited resources allow; all this (and much more) is not just a matter of technical expertise or mechanical calculations by textbook formulae, but of seeing a little more clearly what is so often all-too poorly understood, with terribly costly consequences for individuals and societies alike.

ICIC357 (Philosophy of Economics), which will be regularly offered in Term 2, is structured around short, classic texts from the history of economics since Adam Smith, including readings from David Ricardo, John Maynard Keynes, Thorstein Veblen, Joseph Schumpeter, Friedrich Hayek, Paul Krugman, and others. ICIC358 (Behavioral Economics)—taught in Term 1 because it is probably the more accessible of the two, not because it can claim any precedence in principle—is a companion course that approaches many of the same issues from a more psychological angle, exploring the ways in which observed economic behavior departs from the textbook ideals.


Asst. Prof. Dr. Daniel Pellerin is a faculty member of the Humanities Program. He also teaches Ethics, Philosophy and Economics courses, ICIC Program, HLD.

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