Philosophy with Economics and the Possibility of an Adventure

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


The presentation begins with the question: Can economics be the background of a philosophical education?
The theoretical link between Ethics and Economics goes back to the times of Ancient Greece with Aristotle, yet it is only with Amartya Sen (1987) that this is contemporarily recognized. The recovery of the inevitable relationship of the historical divorce between the positive economy and the normative economy (Sen 1987, 7) Sen builds his argument for the unavoidable connection by showing that the central ethical question about how we should live is also fundamentally central to economics (Sen 1987, 3). As Sen writes: "Not only was the so-called 'father of modern economics', Adam Smith, a Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow (admittedly, a rather pragmatic town), but the subject of economics was for a long time seen as something like a branch of ethics. The fact that economics used to be taught at Cambridge until fairly recently simply as a part of 'the Moral Science Tripos' is no more than an instance of the traditional diagnosis of the nature of economics" (Sen 1987, 2).
In line with Sen's insights the presentation describes two different projects undergone in Portugal showing the richness of making economics the background of ethical and political philosophical sessions and argues that these generally constitute a way to offer a philosophical education. The first project entitled "Ethics and Economics" was carried out in a Portuguese high school (Escola Secundária Padre António Vieira) in Lisbon during the school years 2017-2018; 2018-2019; 2019-2020; and the second project entitled "Thinking Together Against Poverty" occurred in an International School (Greene's Tutorial College) in Estoril.
The description of the projects will elaborate the affirmative answer to the initial questions - Can Economy be the background of a philosophical education? - with a detailed description of practical examples for the preparation of the sessions, the coordination with the regular school content, and specific sessions topics and their experience. One of the goals of the projects was to bring with the philosophical sessions the recognition of the inevitable alliance of ethics and economy identified by Sen and, consequently, the examples presented here center on the sessions which mostly illustrate this. The sessions on the concept of justice, as well as the ones focused on specific questions like "How does voluntary work impact the economic structure?" and "What does it mean to say a country has a good economy?" revealed that the students took up the material taught in economics and incorporated the procedure and reflection of the philosophical sessions in such a way as to make it arguable that the economic background can be the source of a philosophical education. Among other things, it showed that the path was best fostered by providing a free environment in the form of a Community of Inquiry (as projected by philosophy for and with children methodology - P4C), and that philosophical concerns inevitably appeared in discussions about economics. In addition, there was an overall recognition that an important part of the sessions was not so much reaching a set and definite set of conclusions in the dialogue but, instead, it was very important to attain a sense of the details and complexities of the issues discussed. Moreover, because thinking about the way ethics is present in economic considerations encourages, since Adam Smith (1723-1790= the implementation of empathy and imagination as a fundamental part of understanding the exchange of goods, services and ideas and the establishment of contracts (Sen 1987, 50; Silva 2007, 126) it seemed also crucial to show that the philosophical dialogues reinforced this principle by promoting the way participants need to place themselves in other people's shoes to carry out and sustain intelligently the dialogue in the sessions.
In conclusion, it is undeniable that the economic background can be placed as the theoretical field to a philosophical education and it indicates what any other field of expertise needs in order to similarly as a background in what concerns both theoretical and practical considerations. Though there is no doubt that both projects, as well as isolated sessions from them performed in other pedagogical settings were positively evaluated by all those involved, it raised a further and deeper question: Is it really possible that individual agents can transform society by being more ethically responsible than the social environment within which they co-exist?
Reference given: Sen, Amartya Kumar (1987) On Ethics and Economics. New York, NY: Basil Blackwell.
Period5 Oct 2020
Held atX Colóquio Internacional de Filosofia e Educação, Brazil
Degree of RecognitionInternational