What Mainstream Economics Should Learn From the Ethics of Care

This article examines to what extent the moral philosophy of care ethics could be a source of inspiration for modern academic economics. Care ethics represents a conceptual scientific upheaval in standard moral philosophy, proposing a behavioural model that challenges the concept of a rational and selfish individual. We argue here that this model is also enhanced by behavioural economics, which has begun to undertake a substantial revision of the key assumptions of the dominant neoclassical economics research programme. The prospect of change driven by care ethics combines three essential dimensions, each promoting a more humanistic conception of standard economics. The ethics of care highlights the fundamental role of moral emotions in decision making ; it depicts individuals as ordinary human beings who care for others and who also need in turn to receive care ; it has a political and practical focus which is not the case for essentialist moral theories. We show that these three dimensions, which prefigure a “caring economics”, also characterize the main features of behavioural economics. First, recent experimental and behavioural studies reveal the prominent role of moral emotions in promoting other-regarding preferences like cooperation, altruism, and equity. Second, by discarding the standard representative agent approach, behavioural economics also offers a renewed conception of the person, essentially based on identity economics. Third, behavioural economics introduces politics and prescription more explicitly into welfare economics, by adopting a more normative approach.

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PDF - 399.8 ko