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15 Jan 2011    Books/ Book Chapters
Aerni, Philipp


Learning from the Past: How to Bring Ethics and Economics in Line with the Real Nature of Human Beings

In: M. Cockell et al. (eds) Common Knowledge: Rising to the Challenge of Transdisciplinarity

Most policy experts failed to anticipate the food and the financial crises in 2008. Meanwhile, many comments on the global economic downturn in 2009 made by economists and ethicists did not go much beyond denouncing the usual suspects in business and politics.
Yet, there is increasing evidence that policies derived from their theories that still rely on an ideal rather than the real nature of the human being may have caused the crisis in the first place. This article argues that the economic, social and environmental challenges we face in the 21st century ask for a more interdisciplinary approach in academic research and training, especially in the fields of ethics and economics. These disciplines need to adjust themselves to new insights in the cognitive sciences and anthropology. Moreover they need to become more engaged in field research that begins and ends in the domain of concrete observations, combining the basic elements of inductive and deductive research.
This type of holistic research is not new but has its roots in Renaissance Italy. At that time, it was largely a public-private partnership project that enhanced moral imagination, fostered human empowerment and produced useful knowledge that effectively addressed the needs of the people. At that time Europe had to catch up with more advanced economies in the Levant. In the 21st century the emerging economies are in this position and they
seem to embrace or at least appreciate more the virtues of the Renaissance entrepreneur. The way they pursue their self-interest in the global knowledge economy also forces them to extend their moral imagination to other cultures. It is in the personal interest of the entrepreneur now and then to focus on what he or she has in common with other people rather than what makes him or her unique. Extending moral imagination may well be the result of natural selection in the process of cultural evolution and thus rooted in science, economic development and religion alike.

Learning from the Past: How to Bring Ethics and Economics in Line with the Real Nature of Human Beings