Holism, Consequentialism and Economic Crises

When:15 Oct 2013, 1pm - 2:30pm
Venue:Morven Brown 310
Who:Dr Margaret Lange, Macquarie University
Margaret Lange

Philosophy Seminar

A theory of economic justice addresses those ground rules of a self-sufficient social system that dictate how property is acquired and transferred. Appealing to a broad criterion or set of criteria, such a theory describes and justifies what the rules ought to be. In this paper, I consider how conceptual features of a theory of economic justice logically determine its approach to economic crises. First, the paper introduces a number of classificatory terms. It distinguishes between deontological and consequentialist theories of economic justice. Then it defines holism as a continuous dimension—theories of economic justice are said to be more or less holistic—and argues that consequentialist theories of economic justice are somewhat holistic. In the second part, the paper turns to two examples of consequentialist theories of economic justice, those of Hegel and John Rawls. It shows that economic crises are within the scope of Hegel’s and Rawls’s theories, and then considers what the theorists actually say about economic crises. In the third part, using Rawls and Hegel as examples, the paper argues that consequentialist theories are capable in principle of justifying extraordinary property transfers in crisis situations, such as the bailouts made to American banks by the American government during the financial crisis of 2008. So a consequentialist theory could reconcile us to those transfers. But such theories, more than deontological ones, could equally well lead us to call for widespread structural change.

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