Winter
2021/2022
Section
1
Location
DUNNIN 213
Timetable Entries
Tuesday
8:30 am - 10:00 am
Friday
10:00 am - 11:30 am

This seminar examines philosophical issues raised by standard economic analysis. It begins by looking the nature of the discipline itself, proposing that economics may be understood as the science of human freedom. The seminar covers three broad areas.
First, what image of the human person emerges from standard economic premises? Does that comport with how people actually act, or, perhaps more provocatively, should act? Concepts such as rationality, scarcity and utility-maximization will be looked at. Are standard economic arguments for free exchanges rooted only in efficiency grounds, or is there also implied a certain desirable compatibility with human liberty?
Second, economics seeks to measure various phenomenon. The quantitative aspect of the discipline often dominates the analysis. Does the desire for quantitative results influence what economists choose to study? Are important considerations left out by the need for measurement?
Related to measurement is value. What is something worth? Only what a buyer is willing to pay to a willing seller? Is there inherent value in some things? Do people – or at least labour – have values determined differently that goods and services?
Economics tends toward seeing values as subjective, determined by free parties in voluntary exchanges. How well does the subjective value principle work in other fields - aesthetics, academia, music, sports, philosophy? What might be the consequences for a culture that adopts the subjective value principle across society?
Third, what role does economics play in telling us about what constitutes the good life - for nations, or for individuals? In other words, how do we measure development? Is it economic growth alone? If not, isn’t economic growth at least the most important factor? What is added by the "capabilities" approach, or the work of say, Amartya Sen, in defining development as freedom? On the individual level, how does our standard economic model contribute to, or reward virtuous behaviour? Or does it? What about family life - can economics help understand what makes for successful families?
The seminar classes are not lectures but a discussion of assigned readings. Students are evaluated on class participation, their presentation of readings in class and a major paper of 5000 words.