Pancritical Rationalism

My discovery of pancritical rationalism (PCR) reminds me of how I felt in November 1981 when I came across libertarian writings for the first time. Until then I had tasted a range of political viewpoints but had found none of them terribly appealing. Particular elements of some seemed right, but none of the intellectual packages as a whole made sense to me. A similar frustrating uneasiness resulted from my studies of the range of epistemologies, past and present. I had found certain rationalists, such as Karl Popper, appealing but reading Bartley’s The Retreat To Commitment stirred the same excitement and feeling of fit in me as had reading Rothbard’s For A New Liberty 12 years before. But Bartley’s PCR offered something new. PCR’s supremely anti-authoritarian perspective on rationalism seems to me to harmonize with the values and concerns embodied in what we call Extropianism. I want to show how this is so, first by detailing just what it is that PCR expounds, and then by directly relating it to the values expressed by the Extropian Principles.  

Pancritical rationalism, uniquely among epistemologies8, requires no authorities. Look at the questions posed by the various epistemological schools. As Bartley notes, they ask “Questions like: How do you know? How do you justify your beliefs? With what do you guarantee your opinions? all beg authoritarian answers whether those answers be: the Bible, the leader, the social class, the nation, the fortuneteller, the Word of God, the intellect, or sense experience.” [110] Bartley makes an interesting parallel with political philosophy in which the traditional question has been: “Who should rule?” Or: “What is the supreme political authority?” Despite many political philosophers having been motivated by a desire to overcome authorities, the form of the traditional question has molded thinking so that one authority (such as a monarch) is merely replaced with another (such as elected representatives). Similarly, supposedly anti-authoritarian revolutions in epistemology have succeeded only in replacing old authorities (such as intellectual intuition) with new authorities (such as incorrigible sense data).9

PCR shares the comprehensive aims of panrationalism, seeing the scope of reason as unlimited and, with critical rationalism, rejects the demand for rational proofs of our rational standards. Pancritical rationalism goes further in that it also abandons “the demand that everything else except the standards be proved or justified by appealing to the authority of the standards, or by some other means. Nothing gets justified…everything get criticized.” [Bartley, 112] Instead of replacing philosophical justification with mere description of existing rational standards, PCR urges the philosophical criticism of standards as the proper task of the rationalist philosopher. Instead of proposing infallible intellectual authorities, we can “build a philosophical program for counteracting intellectual error.” [112-13] A little later I’ll examine what such a program might involve.

When PCR replaces authoritarian justification with unbounded criticism, holding all positions to be criticizable, it means (in Bartley’s words): “(1) it is not necessary, in criticism, in order to avoid infinite regress, to declare a dogma that could not be criticized (since it was unjustifiable); (2) it is not necessary to mark off a special class of statements, the justifiers, which did the justifying and criticizing but was not open to criticism; (3) there is not a point in all argument, the terms, which is exempted from criticism; (4) the criticizers the statements in terms of which criticism is conducted are themselves open to review.”

Crucial to grasping the essence of pancritical rationalism is the realization that, in the past, the concept of criticism has always been fused with the concept of justification. The inevitable result was that criticism was made in an authoritarian manner: “You belief is irrational because it cannot be justified in terms of my absolute standard of justification.” Or, in a weaker strategy, the criticism is that a belief conflicts with the rational authority (rather than that it cannot be derived from it). This fusion of criticism with justification caused every supposedly critical philosophy to slam into the dilemma of ultimate commitment. PCR replaces these approaches with what Bartley calls a nonjustificational philosophy of criticism. So, how are we to conceive of a rationalist according to pancritical rationalism? Bartley again:

“The new framework permits a rationalist to be characterized as one who is willing to entertain any position and holds all his positions, including his most fundamental standards, goals, and decisions, and his basic philosophical position itself, open to criticism; one who protects nothing from criticism by justifying it irrationally; one who never cuts off an argument by resorting to faith or irrational commitment to justify some belief that has been under severe critical fire; one who is committed, attached, addicted, to no position.” [118]

Pancritical rationalism is able to maintain its integrity, unlike other forms of rationalism. PCR satisifies its own requirements since it can hold itself open to criticism. Earlier forms of rationalism, being unjustifiable, were internally inconsistent, but PCR is consistent because the practice of holding everything open to criticism can itself be held open to criticism. Perhaps someone could produce an argument demonstrating that some of the critical standards necessarily used by a pancritical rationalist were not only unjustified but uncriticizable, that even the pancritical rationalist must accept something as uncriticizable if circular argument and infinite regress are to be avoided. I doubt that such an argument is possible, and it is up to the critic to make the argument. Until such an argument is forthcoming, pancritical rationalism can be held to be a consistent and coherent conception of rationalism.

In saying that I, as a pancritical rationalist, hold everything open to criticism, I do not mean that in practice I hold no views beyond question. For instance, it would seem rather silly for me to declare that I might revise the belief that I am over two years old (to use Bartley’s example). I may practically hold that belief beyond criticism in the sense that I do not take seriously the possibility of revision of this belief but I am not logically committed to doing so. I do not have to be dogmatically committed to the belief. Just possibly, a vast expanse of my fundamental worldview is radically mistaken. Perhaps the world is a simulation that was initiated just a month ago and all apparently older memories are implanted. While I do not take this possibility seriously, PCR suggests that I not rule out, in principle, the possibility that future events might give me cause to reevaluate the mutually-supporting set of beliefs that convince me that I cannot be less than two years old. As Bartley notes, “[T]he claim that a rationalist need not commit himself even to argument is no claim that he will not or should not have strong convictions on which he is prepared to act. We can assume or be convinced of the truth of something without being committed to its truth.” (p.121) Although Bartley himself never discusses the word “certainty”, I think a pancritical rationalist can, with consistency, be certain of some of her beliefs, if by this she means that, given her current understanding of the world, she cannot imagine how a particular belief could ever turn out to be false. Such a contextual certainty involves being thoroughly convinced of a belief, but does not imply that the belief is held dogmatically held to be beyond criticism, beyond revision in principle.

It should also be obvious that being rational, according to the PCR model, does not mean that you have no unexamined beliefs, presuppositions, or assumptions, many of which may be false. Rationality has nothing to do with omniscience, infallibility, or total awareness of your beliefs, implicit and explicit. The rational person is one who is genuinely willing to subject their assumptions and presuppositions to criticism once those assumptions come to light. Such an attitude has been felicitously expressed by the world-shaking biologist Charles Darwin:

“I had, during many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favorable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer.” [Charles Darwin, Autobiography, p.123]

Finally, holding everything open to criticism does not means you hold that there are no true statements or valid arguments, or that for every proposition there exists a successful criticism of it. Such a relativistic view would be precisely what pancritical rationalism is intended to avoid. Relativism and the problem of ultimate commitments are closely tied to one another, and PCR provides an effective response to both.

The preeminent logician and philosopher of language, W.V. Quine, in his “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” has argued that we can always maintain a belief, no matter how bizarre, so long as we are willing to make changes at other points in our web of belief. As practicing rationalists, what guides do we have to help ensure that our belief-web evolves towards greater truth rather than towards deepening delusion? I do not have the space here to develop any suggestions in depth; I recommend a study of Robert Nozick’s suggested Rules of Rationality from his recent book The Nature of Rationality, and I will briefly mention four methods offered by Bartley of reducing error by criticizing our conjectures:

(1) The check of logic: Is the theory in question consistent?

(2) The check of sense observation: Is the theory empirically refutable by some sense observation? And if it is, do we know of any refutation of it?

(3) The check of scientific theory: Is the theory, whether or not it is in conflict with sense observation, in conflict with any scientific hypotheses?

(4) The check of the problem: What problem is the theory intended to solve? Does it do so successfully?

The check of the problem is especially useful for theories or conjectures that are not clearly empirically falsifiable, such as ethical and metaphysical ideas, or interpretations of physical data (such as interpretations of the equations of the mathematical structure of quantum mechanics). Even when the nature of a conjecture doesn’t admit of empirical checking, we may make headway by determining whether a view truly gets to grips with a problem, or whether it merely displaces the problem. We can ask whether a particular theory solves a problem better than any competing theory, and decide whether it simply multiplies problems. We might also see if it is incompatible with other philosophical theories that appear necessary for solving other problems. Other things being equal, we will favor a theory with high fecundity, i.e., one that raises genuine new problems that had not occurred to us before.

Extropian Principles & Pancritical Rationalism:

How should we think of the relation between pancritical rationalism assuming we find it both attractive and able to withstand criticism and the Extropian perspective? This question can be broken down into two parts: First, should we think of PCR as one element of the Extropian philosophy an idea subsumed under one of the Principles, or as part of a cognitive environment within which extropic thinking and living can flourish? Second, how might adopting PCR further the values and goals codified in the Principles? Having shown why PCR is attractive and powerful in its own right, I can now relate it to the Principles without being vulnerable to the charge that I am treating the Principles as authoritative standards by which to choose epistemological views. It should go without saying that the Principles act as a coherent codification and expression of the shared values and goals of Extropians, and not as foundational statements against which all beliefs and practices must be tested for acceptance or rejection.

To answer the first question: I recommend that pancritical rationalism be viewed, strictly speaking, not as an element subsumed under the title of “the Extropian philosophy” but as an attitude and sensibility that will help Extropian thought and practice flourish to the extent that such thought and practice can withstand criticism or evolve under its impact. In other words, let us not bestow the status of “official Extropian epistemology” on PCR. A person can be a perfectly fine Extropian without being convinced of PCR, and someone can be a principled adherent of PCR without necessarily being Extropian. Naturally I think the two sets of ideas fit well together, such that an Extropian is likely to find PCR appealing, and a pancritical rationalist has a good chance of adopting Extropian ideas if she comes across them in an appropriate context.

Rather than seeing PCR as a component of Extropian philosophy, I suggest we regard it as (in Bartley’s terms) a metacontext for the Extropian context. Ideas, memes, and ways of thinking can be classified as positions (such as “women have a right to abortion”), or as contexts for positions. A context is a belief system, ideology, institution, or tradition (libertarianism, Marxism, Sufism, the traditional conception of sportsmanlike behavior). Any position or context may be the object of criticisms, which themselves might be either positions or contexts. A metacontext is a context of contexts, and have to do with how and why contexts are held. Given this scheme of Bartley’s, we can understand the Extropian philosophy as a context, and pancritical rationalism as a metacontext especially conducive to the worldview.10 Before going on to examine what general conditions are conducive to sustaining the metacontext of fallibilism or nonjustificationism, I will look specifically at how living in accordance with the Extropian Principles meshes in a mutually supportive way with PCR.

Boundless Expansion:

By replacing justificationism with fallibilism, and by encouraging the practice of opening to, welcoming, and respecting criticism, pancritical rationalism maximizes the pursuit of truth, accelerating the death of poorly-supported views and ineffective practices. It immunizes against dogmatization, fostering critical thought and an anti-fideistic culture and so opens every area of thought and practice to unlimited, perpetual improvement. Its critical procedures are precisely those embodied in science and, we hope, in practicing scientists. PCR’s effects are radical, expansive, and progressive.


PCR obviously engenders self-criticism and openness to criticism by others, thereby helping us to leave behind ineffective beliefs and habits, flexibly exchanging them for new ones. By encouraging us to welcome criticism and to look forward to finding our errors rather than focusing on proving our beliefs to be beyond question and our personal characteristics, habits, and goals to be perfect, PCR assists us in releasing psychological blocks to the admission of error (and the improvement made possible by the discovery of error). In my formulations of Extropian cognitive habits, I have always stressed that we should tie our feelings of pride and self-esteem not to how often we can convince ourselves that we are right, but to how open we are to reevaluating our positions and to revising them when we cannot rebut criticism. The confluence of self-transformation and PCR shows itself in this principle’s recommendation of rationality, critical thinking, and personal growth, and opposition to faith, adherence to sacred texts, uncritical acceptance of authorities, and blind conformity.

Dynamic Optimism:

Dynamic optimism expresses the attitude that we are capable of improving matters if only we exert ourselves in looking for a better method, a more effective practice, a larger information base, and a truer model of the world. This optimism is dynamic since it rejects any form of passive faith. It reframes difficulties so they are seen as challenges rather than as problems, directing the mind towards the range of possibilities and resources for overcoming the difficulty. Contrary to faith, dynamic optimism recommends experimentation to uncover the truth fitting well with PCR’s fallibilist emphasis on being open to new perspectives. (Evolutionary epistemology which has close ties to PCR and may be held conjointly also resonates with this aspect of dynamic optimism.) Dynamic optimism acts as a potent psycho-epistemological vaccine, not only against pessimism and defeatism, but against dogmatization and stagnation, and so encourages the openness to new information and approaches exemplifed by the pancritical rationalist.

Intelligent Technology:

If we rarely change our beliefs regarding the most effective way to accomplish a task, clinging to familiar means, we will avoid adopting new, superior technology, furthermore acting as a drag on technology’s largely demand-driven advance. PCR probably accelerates technological advancement by stimulating the search for superior means of solving problems, and will certainly stimulate the individual rationalist’s discovery and adoption of innovative technologies. For present purposes I mean to construe “technology” broadly enough to include the design of intellectual and cultural institutions. Widespread adoption of PCR should incentivize the development of technologies facilitating criticism and information gathering and intelligent filtering, for instance true hypertext systems such as the proposed Xanadu11, and knowbots to roam the Net for information relevant to criticism and answering criticism.

Spontaneous Order:

A centrally directed culture or intellectual community will generate fewer perspectives, a more tightly restricted range of criticisms, and slower flow of innovations than a diverse, spontaneously ordering culture. PCR requires not only relentless criticism of ideas, but also generation of numerous innova tive approaches. Spontaneous social orders both embody the liberty to develop divergent ideas, and provide an effective framework for the dissemination of those ideas. Spontaneous orders only arise in the presence of appropriate regularities (property rights and price signals in markets, variation and selection in evolution); therefore, we need to choose the rules of our interactions leading to such orders so that they form an “ecological niche”12 for rationality.

This last point the need to establish and maintain conditions conducive to a ecological niche for rationality deserves some attention here, so I wil conclude by briefly raising the issue of how to achieve this, especially in our activities, fora, and institutions as Extropians. Bartley presents the issue in the following question:

How can our intellectual life and institutions, our traditions, and even our etiquette, sensibility, manners and customs, and behavior patterns, be arranged so as to expose our beliefs, conjectures, ideologies, policies, positions, programs, sources of ideas, traditions, and the like, to optimum criticism, so as at once to counteract and eliminate as much intellectual error as possible, and also so as to contribute to and insure the fertility of the intellectual econiche: to create an environment in which not only negative criticism but also the positive creation of ideas, and the development of rationality, are truly inspired. [207]

In seeking more effective arrangements of our intellectual life and institutions we want to balance carefully the goal of increasing lethality to incorrect memes with the goal of encouraging the proliferation of new attempts at describing the world. We will need a mix of fora and institutions. In some of them, while we will want criticism to be thorough and accessible, we may not want it to be instant. Intellectual spaces are often needed where embryonic ideas can be developed without being strangled at birth.13 Applying this to electronic fora, we see the need both for a “safe haven” such as the main Extropians e-mail list14, and for unrestricted spaces (such as alt.extropians or a new critical-essay list) where the basics can be debated. Perhaps a critical essay list modeled on the current Exi-Essay list would be an ideal critical forum, the required essay format eliminating personal disputes, insults, and ad hominem digs that infest regular lists, and promoting detailed, thoughtful responses.

I leave aside many other areas of our intellectual lives in which we should consider how to optimally balance vigorous criticism with the flowering of new memetic creations. I will conclude with a few suggested cognitive strategies for promoting openness to criticism and revision in ourselves and in others. When we are corrected by others, or realize for ourselves that we erred, many of us exclaim, or think implicitly or explicitly things like: “Oh shit!” “What an idiot I am!” “Now I’ll look stupid.” Such responses not only make us feel bad, they discourage us from openness to criticism by making a negative assessment of its results. Instead, let’s apply a dose of dynamically optimistic thinking, substituting responses along the lines of “Great! I’m a little bit wiser!” or “Thank you! Now I understand the world better than before” or “I did well to listen and learn to that criticism of a belief I hold dear.” Be lavish in your praise of yourself for willingness to seriously entertain criticisms of cherished beliefs, especially when the critic has an obnoxious style. As suggested by the Principle of Dynamic Optimism, tie your self-esteem to your determination to advance and reevaluate, not to having to be right.

These cognitive strategies can be applied to other people to encourage their openness to criticism. Be generous with your praise when participants admit error or simply exhibit genuine respect for criticism, especially when the discussion takes place in a public forum. Not only will this reinforce that person’s rationality, it will foster the same attitude in observers, and elicit a tit-for-tat response to your own benefit. Avoid attacks on the person rather than on their arguments ad hominem attacks annoy people and close them to criticism. Try giving respect to discussants even if you doubt that they deserve it. Finally, embed your criticisms within appreciative recognition of shared assumptions, areas of commonality, and boldness of conjecture even if the conjecture doesn’t stand up.


In this paper I have sought to convey the essence of the pancritical conception of what it is to be a rationalist, and to show why this conception should be especially appealing to we who profess extropic values, practices, and goals in our lives. The applications of PCR suggested here are meant merely to be a preliminary sketch, an overture to a continuing development that I hope to see unfold at future EXTRO sessions, in the pages of Extropy and Exponent, on the various ExI e-mail fora, in local Extropian meetings, in each Nexus establishment, and in every aspect of our lives. Let us, as Extropians, continue to lead the way in seeking to hone our rationality, deepen our wisdom, and augment our intellects. If — as the Biblical story suggests — it is evil to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge to attain rationality and critical thought, let us gorge ourselves. If religion brands rationality as sinful then, in Nietzsche’s words, let us become better and more evil!


Alfred Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic (Penguin Books, 1983; Originally published by Victor Gollancz, 1936, revised 1946).

William Warren Bartley, III, The Retreat To Commitment (Open Court, 2nd Edition, 1984).

Donald T. Campbell, “Unjustified Variation and Selective Variation in Scientific Discovery”, in F. J. Ayala and T. Dobzhansky, eds., Studies in the Philosophy of Biology (Macmillan, 1974).

Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (1641).

Kai Hahlweg & C.A. Hooker, eds. (1989). Issues in Evolutionary Epistemology. (State Univ. of N.Y. Press, 1989). Includes “Self-Organization: A New Approach to Evolutionary Epistemology” by Wolfgang Krohn & Gunter Kuppers.

Friedrich A. Hayek, “Kinds of Rationalism”, ch.5 of Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (University of Chicago Press, 1967).

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748).

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1781).

David Miller, The Possibility of Empirical Science (Open Court, forthcoming 1994).

Mark Miller, Dean Tribble, Marc Steigler, and Ravi Pandya “The Open Society and Its Media”, in Extropy #12 (Vol.l.6 No.1): First Quarter 1994 (Extropy Institute).

Max More, “The Extropian Principles v.2.5” in Extropy #11 (Vol.5, No.1): Second Half 1993 (Extropy Institute).

Robert Nozick, The Nature of Rationality (Princeton University Press, 1993).

Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934, Hutchinson Group 1959, revised 1980).

Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963, 4th edition 1972).

Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol.2: Hegel and Marx, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1945

John L. Pollock, Contemporary Theories of Knowledge (Rowman and Littlefield, 1986).

W. V. Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” in From a Logical Point of View (Harvard University Press, 1953).

Gerard Radnitsky & W.W. Bartley, III, eds. (1987). Evolutionary Epistemology, Theory of Rationality, and the Sociology of Knowledge. (Open Court.)

Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (New American Library, 1961).

Morton White, Religion, Politics and the Higher Learning (Harvard University Press, 1959).


1 William Warren Bartley, III, The Retreat to Commitment (Open Court, 1984).

2 I borrow this phrase from Robert Anton Wilson.

3 Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (New American Library, 1961), section 6.

4 Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol.2, p.225 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1945).

5 For a clear overview of the various kinds of coherence theories, see John L. Pollock, Contemporary Theories of Knowledge (Rowman and Littlefield, Totowa, New Jersey, 1986).

6 White, Religion, Politics and the Higher Learning (Cambridge,Mass.: Harvard University Press,1959), p.48.

7 Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic.

8 Pancritical rationalism does not actually contend to be a full epistemology, saying nothing about the means of acquiring information and leaving open questions about precisely how to effectively criticize ideas. PCR is intended as a conception of rationality, or of what it is to be a rationalist.

9 Bartley may have conceived this parallel due to his enormous familiarity with Friedrich Hayek’s work on spontaneous orders and types of rationalism.

10 According to Bartley there are only three metacontexts:

(1) The metacontext of true belief or justification philosophy. This metacontext seeks to justify or defend positions and contexts.

(2) The oriental metacontext of nonattachment. This aims to detach from positions and contexts.

(3) The metacontext of fallibilism, or of pancritical rationalism. This aims to create and to improve positions and contexts.

11 See “The Open Society and Its Media” by Miller, Tribble, Steigler, and Pandya in Extropy Vo.l.6 No.1 (First Quarter 1994). True hypertext provides features such as hyperlinks, transclusion, and detectors.

12 Bartley’s term.

13 Paul Feyerabend (in Against Method) overemphasizes variation, claims Bartley, while Popper overemphasizes selection.

Critical Rationalism

A number of rationalists, including Alfred Ayer, Morton White, and Karl Popper, recognizing these difficulties with panrationalism, proceeded to develop what we can call (following Popper) Critical Rationalism. These critical rationalists, according to Bartley, hold three points in common. (1) They begin by acknowledging that rationality is limited in “that some matters, such as the principles and standards of rationality, cannot be justified.” [97] As Morton White puts it: “There is no rock which can serve as a fulcrum on which… claims… can be weighed in some absolutely decisive way. The notion that there is such a rock is one of the chimeras of western thought.”6 (2) They hold that this concession is insignificant, or too minor to give comfort to irrationalism. (3) ) “If challenged, they tend to ground or justify their rationalist position in personal or social commitment to standards which are beyond challenge.” [97]

Alfred Ayer started out as a panrationalist of sense experience (or what is usually referred to as a logical positivist) in his 1936 book, Language, Truth, and Logic, but developed a form of critical rationalism in The Problem of Knowledge (1956). Ayer states that it is “impossible to provide a rational justification for basic philosophical standards, principles, and procedures” or to give a proof “that what we regard as rational procedure really is so; that our conception of what constitutes good evidence really is right.”7 Ayer’s concession means he avoids claiming more than he logically can. Yet Ayer fails to demonstrate how his position, as a theory of rationality, can afford to leave his epistemic standards unjustified. Ayer’s explanation of why his standards need no justification holds that a standard “could be irrational only if there were a standard of rationality which it failed to meet; whereas in fact it goes to set the standard: arguments are judged to be rational or irrational by reference to it.” (Ayer, p.75) “Since there can be no proof that what we take to be good evidence really is so”, then “it is not sensible to demand one.” (Ayer, p.81)

Ayer’s move from panrationalism to critical rationalism results in a conservatism, in which “the business of the philosopher becomes to analyze, and state as principles, the patterns of accepted ways of thinking and speaking.” [101] This change of attitude can be described in theological terms: Ayer moves away from apologetics (the procedure that seeks rational justification for religious commitment) to kerygmatics (the exposition and description of the fundamental message). Bad as this is, even worse is the fatal flaw in this strategy for bolstering rationalism against irrationalism: The same move is open to irrationalists. If Ayer holds that the ultimate standards of rationality are unjustifiable because they themselves set the standard for justification, the irrationalist can contend that Ayer can have no objection to someone who is committed to a different ultimate standard (such as Biblical writing). Ayer has simply begged the question in favor of his standards; he has done nothing and has admitted that he can do nothing to show why one set of ultimate standards or commitments must be chosen over others. If Ayer’s standards are in fact correct, then all argument must proceed in terms of them. But the correctness of these standards is just what is at issue. We don’t even have to turn to irrationalists to find challenges to Ayer’s standards: Popper’s conception of scientific method rejects not only the legitimacy but the existence of inductive procedure. Ayer’s approach, then, turns out to be just one type of fideism rather than an antidote to it.

Popper’s critical rationalism also suffers from fideism, although he is at least open about it, as we can see in this passage from The Open Society and Its Enemies, where he proposes to adopt a “minimum concession to irrationalism.” [p.416-17] He writes:

whoever adopts the rationalist attitude does so because he has adopted, without reasoning, some proposal or decision,or belief, or habit, or behavior, which therefore in its turn must be called irrational. Whatever it may be, we can describe it as an irrational faith in reason…. the fundamental rationalist attitude is based upon an irrational decision, or upon faith in reason. Accordingly, our choice is open. We are free to choose some form of irrationalism, even some radical or comprehensive form. But we are also free to choose a critical form of rationalism,one which frankly admits its limitations, and its basis in an irrational decision (and so far, a certain priority for irrationalism).

Is there a way out of this irrationalist quagmire? Can we be rationalists with good conscience? Is rationalist integrity possible? Can we reject all forms of irrationalism and fideism without having to exempt our own standards of rationality from scrutiny and possible revision? I will argue that another form of rationalism pancritical rationalism is the answer, and furthermore clearly and powerfully helps to promote extropian goals, as expressed in the five Extropian Principles.


…continued from yesterday 

Panrationalism is not a modern invention. Bartley tells us that panrationalism can be traced back at least as far as Epictetus who wrote in his Discourses: “To be a reasonable creature, that alone is insupportable which is unreasonable; but everything reasonable may be supported.” The panrationalist conception of what it means to be a rationalist holds two principles:

(1) Any position that can be justified or established by appeal to rational argument is to be accepted; and

(2) only positions that can be justified or established by appeal to rational argument are to be accepted.

Rationalists have long taken these principles as given, instead focusing on questions that arise only if the tenets are assumed to be correct, in particular the question: “What is the nature of the rational authority or standard according to which a rationalist can justify all his propositions?” Most theories of knowledge that have offered answers to to this question can be classified as Rationalist/Intellectualist or as Empiricist. (Although “rationalist” is the more common term for the first kind of position, I will use the term “intellectualist” to avoid confusion with the broader meaning of rationalist employed throughout this paper.) The intellectualist justifies her beliefs by appealing to a purported faculty of intellectual intuition, or pure Reason. The empiricist appeals instead to sensory experience. Despite the sustained attention of many sharp minds, all of these attempts have collapsed.

Rene Descartes, a paradigmatic intellectualist, sought an indubitable standard capable of terminating the regress of argument, without need for a dogmatic commitment. He thought he found such a standard in clear and distinct ideas presented to the intellect, their veracity guaranteed by God. All error came from the will, which decided that something was known before having been reduced to clear and distinct ideas. In the seventeenth century, skeptics like Gassendi weakened confidence in Descartes’ scheme, but it was crippled in the eighteenth century by John Locke, David Hume, and finally buried by Immanuel Kant’s “antinomies of pure reason”. Our intellectual intutions, it turned out, are too variable and unreliable. Furthermore, the rationalists realized, intellectualist versions of panrationalism were too wide, that is they allowed in mutually inconsistent beliefs, and they granted tenability to belief in such things as God, which rationalists thought should be excluded by a sensible rationalism.

Empiricist versions of panrationalism developed from the works of Bacon, Locke, and Hume, ending up in the twentieth century as logical positivism. Here the infinite regress of demands for justification were stopped not by intellectual intuitions but by sense data which it was held, were self-guaranteeing, incorrigible, unchallengeable. For empiricists, it was nature rather than God which did not deceive, and the irrationalist was the person whose ideas and theories could not be derived from sense observations or who clung to their beliefs with greater tenacity that sense experience sanctioned. As Bartley points out, “Whereas the main fault of intellectualism had been to include too much, to ascribe rationality to untenable views, the main fault of empiricism was to exclude too much, to exclude obviously tenable views as irrational.” [90] Thus empiricists beginning with Hume found themselves unable to justify induction, causality, the self, the existence of the external world or of other minds, or the rationality of scientific procedure.

When it became generally accepted that even Kant’s attempted fusion of intellectualism and rationalism into a new form of panrationalism had collapsed, many rationalists took refuge in pragmatism or instrumentalism. Their inability to justify some of their most basic and significant ideas and procedures was no problem, they now said, since beliefs in such things as scientific laws or in the existence of other minds were not, after all, descriptions of reality. Rather than describing the world, such ideas are instruments, tools, or symbols that help us find our way around. These beliefs are not justified on a factual basis grounded in sense experience, but only only on the basis of their utility in making predictions or in classifying the objects of experience.

Instrumentalism turned out to be a weapon easily adoptable by the irrationalists. They saw that instrumentalism allowed irrational commitments to persist without coming into conflict with science. The enemies of reason could plausibly declare belief in instruments or symbols such as God, angels, or the soul to be useful in organizing, interpreting, and handling experience especially if we include moral experience. Rationalists found their new weapon turned against them; they could no longer object to the irrationalists that their beliefs had no foundation in empirical reality. Also disturbingly, we can see that instrumentalism lends support to views that assert the reducibility (not the mere correlation) of beliefs to nonrational factors such as social class, nationality, race, gender, historical period, and so on. We see a clear case of this in Marxism, where ideology is generated by one’s economic class which itself results from the material relations of production.

A panrationalist may yet hope to discover a standard by which all irrational beliefs can be excluded and all rational beliefs justified. However, by returning to the two requirements for a panrationalist, we can see that panrationalism is impossible in principle. The two requirements were:

(1) Any position that can be justified or established by appeal to rational argument is to be accepted; and

(2) only positions that can be justified or established by appeal to rational argument are to be accepted.

We cannot simultaneously hold both principles for if we accept the second principle we must reject the first. The second principle enjoins us to accept only positions that can be justified by appeal to rational argument, yet it seems we cannot justify the first principle by appeal to sense experience or intellectual intuitions, or any othe rational authority.

If we are to reject one of the two criteria for rationalism, it should be the second because (a) we surely will not want to abandon the requirement that a rationalist accept any proposition that can be rationally justified; and (b) the second requirement is self-contradictory. The proposition that only positions that can be justified or established by appeal to rational argument are to be accepted cannot itself be justified by appeal to rational criteria. By its own imperative, if the second requirement is true, it must be rejected. The requirement thereby asserts its own untenability.

We should not accept the second principle because we should recognize that some statements, beliefs, and criteria at any time must be simply accepted without argument because they form the starting point for argument. As Popper puts it: “Since all argument must proceed from assumptions, it is plainly impossible to demand that all assumptions should be based on argument.” (The Open Society, 230) Of course, an assumption accepted without justification in order to start a particular line of argument might later, in the context of a different argument, become the object of justification. Significant results cannot be obtained from argument if we accede to the demand to start with no assumptions, or even to the weaker demand that we start with a very small set of assumptions such as the Kantian “categories” or Rand’s “axiomatic concepts”. Comprehensive rationalism or panrationalism falls down by being unable to justify itself. The rationalist attitude can be based neither upon argument nor experience, for a rationalist attitude must first be adopted if any argument or experience is to move a person. Only those who have already adopted this attitude will be convinced by arguments in its favour.

Rationalism and Justificationism

The next few days covers some issues related to panrationalism and pancritical rationalism. The content is based on a paper delivered by Max More at Extropy’s Institute’s 1994 conference EXTRO-1 “Pancritical Rationalism: An Extropic Metacontext for Memetic Progress” .  Let us start off with Rationalism and Justificationism.  

Karl Popper suggests that we can understand rationalism in this way:

We could then say that rationalism is an attitude of readiness to listen to critical arguments and to learn from experience. It is fundamentally an attitude of admitting that “I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth”.

According to familiar versions of rationalism, everything is open to criticism, everything requires justification, except certain privileged propositions or procedures, whether these be sense data, logic, or induction. Bartley refers to this as the dilemma of ultimate commitment, or the problem of presuppositions [72]. Rationalists have held the view that any statement, to be justified (to be held rationally), must be supported by argument. Any argument involves both presuppositions and epistemic standards, which themselves require justification in turn. Argumentation thus leads to an infinite regress of justification, with each new supporting reason itself requiring justification. Unless we reach some indisputable, bedrock position, the original proposition remains unjustified. To justify the original contention, some unquestionable authority must be reached. Such standards, criteria, or ultimate presuppositions are simply accepted without further justification.

The situation is problematic whether different people have the same or diverse ultimate standards. What if people have different ultimate stopping points? How can we rationally arbitrate between them? Suppose René asserts that he has the correct means for deciding between differing ultimate standards or authorities. George will reply that no, he has the correct means and it shows that René’s method is faulty and, furthermore, so is his position. What if, on the other hand, everyone did accept the same ultimate standard? Still, there would be no way to prove that it led to objective truth about the world. An ultimate standard cannot be justified by appeal to another standard, for then it would not actually be the ultimate standard. But neither can it be justified by appeal to itself, for that would be to argue in a vicious circle. But if the standard of rationality is held immune from the need for rational justification, it can be said to be held irrationally or dogmatically. Many thinkers have therefore concluded that arguing about ultimate standards is pointless. It appears that reason is relativized to the differing ultimate standards, defining irreconcilable ideological communities.

The skeptic reacts to this situation by holding that since nothing can be supported rationally, we should (try to) suspend judgment about everything. Such a position is hard to live by: How, for example, can we go about our lives while refusing to accept the validity of inductive inferences? David Hume, the disturbing philosopher who first demonstrated the impossibility of justifying induction, found that when he left his philosophical study, he was unable to prevent himself from believing in the procedure that, in his reflective moments, he believed to be irrational. This conflict of practical action and theoretical belief has bothered generations of thinkers familiar with Hume’s skeptical writings.

While the rationalist skeptic frets over the problem, the fideist glories in it, proclaiming that an irrational, ungrounded ultimate commitment is necessary. Since no ultimate standards can be justified, the fideist gloats, why not accept as your standard the proclamations of the Pope, or the urgings of your feelings, or the will of the people, or the assertions of der Füehrer? The inability of the rationalist to justify ultimate epistemic standards opens the door to securing agreement by means of force or psychological manipulation.

A central epistemic procedure that philosophical thinkers have long sought to justify is that of induction. Inductive inference appears to be crucial to much of our daily reasoning as well as essential for scientific methodology. Whereas deductive reasoning involves logically valid inferences from a universal rule combined with an instance to a conclusion about a particular case (“All tax-collectors are extortionists, Sally is a tax-collector, therefore Sally is an extortionist”), inductive inference goes from some finite number of instances to a universal conclusion (“That human died, and that human died, and that human died, therefore all humans die”). If we want our beliefs to be justified, we must acquire them by a means that confers justification. So can we show inductive inference to be justified?

Clearly inductive inferences are not deductively valid. No matter how many instances we have seen of humans dying, we cannot logically deduce that the next human we observe will also die, since there is no contradiction in asserting the contrary. We can make the inference deductively valid by adding a premise:

Alice was human and she died.

Bob was human and he died.

Chris was human and he died.

[and so on…]

Observed past regularities will always continue into the future.

Therefore, the next human I observe will die.

Now we cannot deny the conclusion if we accept the truth of the premises. Unfortunately, to produce a deductively valid argument, we had to introduce a premise that itself embodies induction. So we have assumed induction in order to make the argument valid.

We will run into circularity even if we forget about trying to turn induction into deduction. When I have observed a constant conjunction between As and Bs (for instance between night being followed by day), I make the inductive inference that the next A will be followed by a B. For this belief to be justified I must be justified in believing in the procedure by which I came to the belief. I believe that a B will occur because I have observed past instances of As being followed by Bs, and I now observe an A. But my belief that this A will be followed by a B will be justified only if I am justified in believing that observed instances provide reason to believe a certain statement about unobserved instances. In other words, I need to be justified in believing in some kind of Uniformity Principle, such as “Instances of which we have have had no experience will resemble those of which we have had experience; th course of nature will continue uniformly the same”. But how am I to justify that belief? I must justify it on the basis of experience: I must justify the Uniformity Principle by means of a justified inference from what has been observed to the truth of the principle. But this is circular reasoning, since every inference from the observed to the unobserved is based on the Uniformity Principle. None of the justificationist attempts to solve this problem whether Strawson’s argument based on the meaning of “reasonable”, Russell’s argument that induction is a priori, or Reichenbach and Salmon’s practicalist or pragmatist approach, has withstood criticism. Pancritical Rationalism solves the problem by doing away with the need for induction, replacing it with the falsification of scientific laws in terms of observational statements.

Induction is not alone in its problematic status as an unjustifiable ultimate standard. I could have chosen instead to look at sensory input as a foundation for knowledge or justified belief. Whatever the particular privileged epistemic process, the problem of ultimate commitment applies to all foundationalist epistemologies (whether intuitionist or empiricist). Less clear is whether the problem equally to coherentist epistemologies, which reject the idea of epistemically basic beliefs. Unfortunately Bartley doesn’t discuss coherentist views like that of Keith Lehrer. Most coherentist views suffer from other fatal flaws however; linear coherence theories, for instance, allow justification to result from infinitely-long, non-terminating sequences of inferences from other beliefs, or from circular chains of reasoning. Possibly some form of negative, holistic5 coherence theory avoids the problem of ultimate commitment, though it would still be a justificationist approach. I shall not try to decide that question here. Whether foundationalist or coherence, standard epistemologies are all theories of epistemic justification. A typical foundationalist view seeks to justify beliefs in terms of some special class of epistemically basic beliefs. In past centuries such basic beliefs were taken to be things like intellectual intuition, the word of God, or clear and distinct ideas. Modern foundationalists have dethroned these and installed beliefs about appearances, or sense-data, as the specially privileged foundations of all justified belief.

It seems, then, that whatever particular epistemology she subscribes to, the rationalist faces the problem of ultimate commitments. As a result, rationalists haave been hard pressed to respond to fundamental anti-rationalist arguments. As Bartley says:

“The blame for continued failure by rationalists to answer sceptical and fideistic arguments about the limits of rationality should, in fact, be placed on the inadequacy and primitive character of our theories of rationality, or on our conception of rationalist identity, rather than on our rationality or reasoning capacity itself, where Pascal, Kant, and many others have put it.” [Bartley, p.85]

I will follow Bartley’s procedure in the middle part of this paper by emphasizing the difficulties inherent in two standard conceptions of rationalism panrationalism (or comprehensive rationalsim), and critical rationalism. Having seen the stages passed through by rationalism, we will be in a position to appreciate a third conception, pancritical rationalism (or comprehensively critical rationalism).

Limits of Rationality

Rationality in Conflict Management 

Much of the conflict resolution literature presents an image of disputants as rational actors who are focused on pursuing their long-term interests, unaffected by their emotions. The “realist” approach suggests that all conflict involves material interests, while the rationalist approach suggests that conflict is the outcome of conscious intentions. [1] The idea seems to be that if parties rely solely on logic, both sides can advance their interests and come to a mutually acceptable compromise in the event that those interests conflict. Any emotional and relational factors should be set aside so that the political and economic interests that are central to the conflict can be addressed. Feelings of humiliation, shame, fear, and anxiety are viewed as obstacles to rational thinking and as a sign of vulnerability. [2]

Once parties have identified their deep-seated concerns and interests, they can make trade-offs and concessions and work together to devise creative solutions to their problems. Rationality helps them to explore their various interests and options, identify their zone of possible agreement, and find a way a way to compromise. According to the widely-accepted conception of means-ends rationality, a rational act is one that uses the most efficient means to achieve a given end. [3] Classical economic theory, for example, describes individuals as “hyper-rational.” [4] They make decisions by gathering and processing information and then acting in a manner that maximizes utility.

However, an approach to conflict that over-emphasizes rationality may obscure the fact that disputants in conflict are often influenced by unconscious motives and guided by the emotions of anger, fear, distrust, and shame. Protracted conflict, in particular, is often a result of parties’ lack of self-knowledge, disturbances in communication, and unacknowledged feelings about their relationship. [5] Insofar as strong emotions typically play either a positive or negative role in the way parties wage conflict and attempt to negotiate solutions, emotions have a profound influence on dispute management as well  Conflict and its resolution are driven not only by the pursuit of instrumental goals and rational interests, but also by desires for less tangible things such as love, recognition, and a sense of belonging.

Are Negotiations Guided by Rationality?

Most of the training literature for negotiation and mediation suggests that emotions should be ignored and that third party interveners should guide disputants toward rational behavior. [6] However, it is doubtful that the rational thought processes and decision-making that occurs during negotiation can function independently of the emotions. [7] Indeed, strong emotions are typically part of the negotiation process and may cause negotiations to break down if they are not dealt with properly. Feelings of fear, mistrust, and anger, for example, often interfere with effective negotiation by clouding parties’ judgment, narrowing their focus of attention, and distracting them from their substantive goals. [8]

For a settlement to be reached, it is not necessary that parties overcome all obstacles or address all of their concerns. There simply need to be enough incentives to motivate them to consent to the proposed agreement. Note that not all of these incentives are ones that figure into cost-benefit analysis or rational assessment. While it is true that disputants typically rely on rationality to assess the gains and losses associated with a proposed settlement, it seems clear that psychological rewards and disincentives likewise play a role. In addition to financial considerations and material interests, there are intangible considerations that may weigh in favor of settlement or against it. [9] For example, the emotional benefits and losses that may be anticipated as a result of settlement include recognition, revenge, honor, distrust, anger, and embarrassment. Other intangible considerations include the thoughts and feelings of the disputants about their relationship.

In many cases, disputants are not even reflectively aware of these emotional and relational factors. Unacknowledged threats to relational bonds result in shame can set the stage for insult, humiliation, and revenge. [10] These hidden emotional factors may make coming to a settlement seem unfavorable even, when such an agreement would best serve parties’ material interests. Indeed, if emotions are high, disputants are likely to be antagonistic in response to anything the other side proposes. Negative emotions thus may lead parties to neglect their instrumental goals.

Conflicts that are relatively intangible are those rooted in the dynamics of history, religion, culture, and values. Because these conflicts “arise from the depths of the human heart rather than the material world,” it is difficult to determine their parameters and boundaries. [11] When these conflicts continue for a long time, parties’ goals tend to extend beyond advancing their concrete interests to include upholding their dignity and prestige. Conflicts rooted in underlying value differences, identity issues, or unacknowledged emotions cannot be addressed in the same way as disputes over tangible resources. According to Jay Rothman (1997), trying to use common modes of bargaining to address conflicts that are poorly defined or intangible often proves to be inadequate.

Marc Gopin (2002) recommends that political negotiations to manage such conflicts be accompanied by efforts to address religion, culture, moral commitments, and the transformation of relationships. In his view, building peace requires more than political settlements and rational agreements. It requires groups’ ability to address the cultural and spiritual dimensions of conflict and deal with their feelings of humiliation, dishonor, and grief. Systems of mourning and coping with ultimate loss should be brought into the realm of peacemaking. Gopin believes that in addition to addressing the conflict’s substantive political issues, we should work to foster healing and reconciliation.

Understanding Conflict Escalation

In addition, an over-emphasis on rationality will limit our understanding of conflict escalation. Under certain circumstances, such as when one party has overwhelming power over its opponent, escalation is the rational thing to do. It makes sense to use one’s power to overcome the opponent’s resistance or to intentionally escalate the conflict in order to gain more leverage. [12] In these cases of tactical escalation, where parties make a rational choice to intensify conflict, they may actually be able to improve the conflict situation. However, escalation more commonly occurs without the parties having a full understanding of the situation or considering alternative courses of action. When conflict is driven by feelings of anger, fear, and perceived injustice, parties may overreact to the situation at hand and conflicts may spiral out of control. For example, sometimes individuals will perceive a grave threat, even though the situation is not actually as dangerous as they think it is. While there may be no real cause for anger or intense fear, these feelings may take over and lead to aggression. Actions that are seen as extreme or overly severe may then provoke outrage from the other side and cause conflict to become unnecessarily violent and destructive. [13] Overcome by hostility or a desire for revenge, the parties may develop grandiose positions that are unrealistic and unreasonable.

The intensification of conflict is typically accompanied by significant psychological changes among the parties involved. In addition to feelings of anger and fear, parties tend to develop stereotypes, negative attitudes, and mistaken perceptions of the other side. There is a tendency to misinterpret the behavior of one’s opponent or to assume that the intentions and basic dispositions of one’s enemy are always fundamentally “evil.” Even when an adversary makes some conciliatory actions or attempts to make some concessions, this conduct is likely to go unnoticed, or to be discounted as deceptive. [14] These mechanisms of attributional distortion and selective perception are not fully rational, and yet they influence much of the destructive behavior we see in value and identity conflicts. Indeed, parties may become so hostile and aggressive that they that may come to believe that the only way to resolve their conflict is to destroy the other side and make the other group just “go away” or “disappear.” It is these extreme attitudes that often result in genocide, war, and terrorism, many instances of which result in great harm to oneself or one’s group. Indeed, the injury that people sometimes undergo so that they can cause harm to their “enemies” suggests that people caught in conflict often act for reasons which defy rational calculations of self-interest. A failure to address these non-rational, social-psychological dimensions of conflict makes it difficult to account for why ordinary people engage in such destructive and violent acts.

Non-Rational Modes of Conflict Resolution Knowledge

Focusing solely on rationality may also cause us to overlook some of the important ways that people come to learn about ways to manage conflict. The conflict resolution field emphasizes research, training, and study as primary avenues for the development of knowledge. Through analysis and the application of various theories, practitioners can learn how to synthesize different approaches and apply resolution procedures to concrete conflict situations. Many people believe that knowledge gained through rational thinking and book learning should serve as the field’s focus. However, some theorists have begun to recognize that everyday, commonsense understandings of conflict play a central role in the process of learning how to manage conflict. Rather than being developed through scholarly study, folk knowledge is acquired through intuition and experience and embedded in cultural traditions. This awareness of how to manage conflict is a skill that people develop through everyday activity rather than through reflection and textual analysis. According to Paul Wehr (1998), this sort of knowledge evolves from generation to generation and emerges wherever human beings try to live together and get along in everyday life. [15] Children receive a great deal of this knowledge from their parents, elders, and social surroundings.

Stories, poetry, and rituals are likewise important sources of conflict resolution knowledge. Narratives allow people to gain insight into the perspectives and experiences of others and understand the motives and intentions behind their behavior. Similarly, poetry can help parties to identify their grievances, raise understanding about conflict dynamics, and move them toward reconciliation. In addition, participating in rituals often allows people to gain a deeper sense of what sorts of relationships they would like to build. Instead of emphasizing words or rational thought, ritual involves symbols, senses, and non-verbal communication. Through informal social activities as well as more formal cultural and religious ceremonies, parties tap into their emotions and learn how to wage conflict in more constructive ways. According to Lisa Schirch (2005), ritual offers parties an opportunity to interact in a space that is set apart from the conflict so that they can begin to develop a shared understanding of the challenges they face. Through art, ceremony, and symbolic activity, people who know little about the academic study of conflict resolution can gain knowledge about how to manage their conflict. In Schirch’s view, efforts to approach conflict in an exclusively rational, analytical, and linear mode are insufficient. [16] This is because much of our knowledge about conflict is rooted in our emotions, worldviews, and cultural understandings.

The imagination is yet another source of conflict knowledge that is not strictly rational. According to John Paul Lederach (2005), the capacity to recognize possibilities and envision constructive change does not emerge through the careful application of pre-established techniques. Instead, conflict transformation tends to come about through something that approximates an artistic process. [17] These “ah-ha” moments in which valuable insights surface are more like moments of aesthetic imagination than rational examination. Lederach thus views peacebuilding as an art form that requires creativity, constant innovation, and the ability to get to the heart and soul of conflict.
[1] Suzanne Retzinger and Thomas Scheff, “Emotion, Alienation, and Narratives: Resolving Intractable Conflict.” Mediation Quarterly 18(12)(2000-2001); available at:

[2] Daniel L. Shapiro, “Negotiating Emotions,” in Conflict Resolution Quarterly, (20:1, 2002), 68.

[3] Milton Rinehart, “Towards Better Concepts of Peace,” Working Paper 89-14, Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado; available at:

[4] Edward E. Ergenzinger, “Conversations with Phineas Gage: A Neuroscientific Approach to Negotiation Strategies,”; available at:

[5] T. J. Scheff, Bloody Revenge: Emotions, Nationalism, and War,(Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994) 3.

[6] Suzanne Retzinger and Thomas Scheff, “Emotion, Alienation, and Narratives: Resolving Intractable Conflict.” Mediation Quarterly 18(12)(2000-2001); available at:

[7] Ergenzinger,

[8] Robert S. Adler, Benson Rosen, and Elliot M. Silverstein, “Emotions in Negotiation: How to Manage Fear and Anger,” in Negotiation Journal, (14:2, 1998). Summary available at:

[9] Shiri Milo-Locker,”The Decision to Settle – Balance, Setoffs and Tradeoffs Between Rational, Emotional and Psychological Forces,”, available at:

[10] Scheff, 1994, 3.

[11] Jay Rothman, Resolving Identity-Based Conflict in Nations, Organizations, and Communities, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997), 11.

[12] Otomar Bartos and Paul Wehr, Using Conflict Theory. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 99.

[13] Louis Kriesberg, Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Resolution. (Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, Inc., 1998), 169.

[14] ibid., 153.

[15] Paul Wehr, “The Development of Conflict Knowledge”

[16] Lisa Schirch, Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding, (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, Inc., 2005), 35.

[17] John Paul Lederach, The Moral Imagination: The Arts and Soul of Building Peace, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

The above article is by Michelle Maiese from  and the original can be found at

Cognition and Spirituality

Relations between Two Modes of Cognition: Rational-Scientific and Intuitive-Spiritual

Considerable evidence indicates that the human cognitive system comprises two subsystems, one rational-scientific and the other intuitive-spiritual. Differences as well as harmonies and interactions between the two subsystems are described. The advent of systems science has improved the understanding of the harmonies and interactions. Consideration of cultural differences is important for understanding spirituality and communicating about it.

Twenty years ago I read about an Australian medicine man whose soul travelled to the center of the earth, where in a bright cave he saw the two Ungud serpents, the fundamental creative force of life and the earth (1), and I still remember, how I immediately conceived the reading of this story as a peak of my scientific career. Not for a moment did it occur to me that the language and background of the medicine man, so different from my own, were of any importance for the relevance of his spiritual experience to my own vision of scientific research: a striving to see (understand) the most important features of life and nature.

“Spiritual” is not a well defined term, but study of the literature shows that a number of knowledgeable authors have developed the opinion that a spiritual essence exists and can be understood cross-culturally (2 – 6). This view with its philosophical ramifications is often called the “Perennial Philosophy”. Other authors, also knowledgeable, believe that the cultural differences are more fundamental (7), but all seem to agree that every mystic or spiritual person expresses or has expressed him/herself in the language and general frame of reference of his/her own culture.

In the sessions of the Spirituality group in the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) we have had several valuable inputs from non-Western cultures (Japanese,Indian, American Indian, Aboriginal Australian etc.), but for those of us who are rooted in Western scientific culture it seems that we will obtain our best chance for communicating about spirituality by expressing ourselves on the background of our familiar scientific attitude. A better understanding of both simlarities and differences among the cultures may then become possible.

Here it must be recalled, however, that during its relatively short history modern science has undergone several fundamental changes, called paradigmatic shifts in the literature on the philosophy of science (8). I find that the advent of modern systems science constitutes such a paradigmatic shift, and one which is important for the communication about spirituality. Thus a spiritual experience is often said to have a strong feature of unity, an intuition that everything is connected with everything. This general idea can also be expressed and understood in systems science, but not so readily in old fashioned science with its focus on one cause – one effect. Systems science does not replace or even describe the spiritual experience, but I think, it can give a correspondence with spirituality in words or mathematics which is helpful in our attempts to communicate and perhaps obtain intersubjective agreement.

In the International Society for the Systems Sciences, ISSS some people have expressed concern about spirituality being discussed in a scientific society like ISSS, apparently because they think that there may be some disagreement or even conflict between science and spirituality. In the beginning this came as a complete surprise to me, as may be understood from the first paragraph above. Now I understand the reasons for these concerns better. One reason seems to be that some spiritual people do not live up to the ideals of science concerning a critical attitude. Lack of critical reflection is, however, also observed with many non-spiritual people and within science itself; and conversely, some persons to whom spirituality is important do practice the level of criticism ideally required by science. From an engineer’s viewpoint it may also be a matter of concern, that spiritual people often envisage or relie on empowerment coming from spirituality, while engineers tend to presume that everything is done by rational means and individual willpower. The engineers viewpoint is, however, not an inevitable consequence of science; rather the difference of opinion is a problem amenable for further study, within both science and spirituality.

Considerable evidence indicates that our cognitive system consists of (at least) two subsystems, one rational-scientific and the other intuitive-spiritual (9). Since these subsystems work on overlapping data bases, it seems understandable that sometimes they come up with comparable results as briefly mentioned above. Only, these results are experienced consciously in widely different ways. Further, although the two subsystems are working in parallel, they probably influence each other, because the human person appears to function as a self-organizing system.This is also brought out by more detailed studies: intuitive and spiritual ideas can be contemplated rationally and in the end give rise to rational-scientific conclusions, which may again give rise to new intuitive ideas (9), so that a progressive develpopment of knowledge occurs. Indeed, our discussions in the ISSS may be regarded as an example of this self-organizing interaction in progress.

1. Lommel, Andreas 1969, Fortschritt ins Nichts. Atlantis: Zürich. See in particular pp. 137, 156-158.

2. Ferrer, Jorge N. 2000, The Perennial Philosophy Revisited. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology Vol. 32 (1): 7-30. Many references.

3. Forman, Robert K. C. (ed.) 1997. The Problem of Pure Consciousness. Oxford University Press: New York. Chapters by Donald Rothberg, Stephen Bernhardt, and Norman Prigge & Gary Kessler.

4. Randrup, Axel 1998, The Perennial Philosophy. Lecture 42nd Annual Conference of The International Society for the Systems Sciences, 1998 Publ. on CD rom ISBN 0-9664183-0-1, eds. Janet K. Allen and Jennifer Wilby. With references.

5. Smith, Huston 1987, Is There a Perennial Philosophy? Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 55 (3): 553-566.

6. Underhill, Ruth M. 1965. Red Man’s Religion. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. USA. See particularly p. 94 and chapter 23.

7. Katz, Steven (ed.) 1992, Mysticism and Language. Oxford University Press: New York.

8. Brier, Soeren 1994, Verdensformlen der Blev Vaek. Aalborg Universitetsforlag: Aalborg, Denmark. Much on paradigmatic shifts.

9. Marchais, P., Grize, J.-B., Randrup, A. 1995, Intuition et psychiatrie. Annales Médico-Psychologique, Vol.153 (6): 369-384.

Axel A. Randrup, International Center for Interdisciplinary Psychiatric Research, CIRIP,

Spirituality & Science

British psychiatry has largely focused on the biology of mental disorder, supported over recent years by advances in the neurosciences. There has been a somewhat awkward fit with psychology, since psychology is based on the concept of mind, and how the mind and brain are related is far from clear. The view taken by many is to regard mind as epiphenomenal, on the basis that the brain itself is somehow generating consciousness.

In this model of the psyche, there is no need to postulate a soul. We are nothing but the product of our genes, as Richard Dawkins (1976) would have us believe. Such an assertion comes at the tail end of an epoch that began 300 years ago with the intellectual giants, René Descartes and Isaac Newton. Descartes set down a lasting blueprint for science, that he would hold nothing to be true unless he could prove to his satisfaction that it was true. Newton laid the foundation of a mechanical universe, in which time is absolute and space is structured according to the laws of motion, a cosmos of stars and planets all held in place by the forces of momentum and gravitation.

Both Descartes and Newton were deeply religious men. Descartes’ famous saying, “Cogito ergo sum”, led him simply to argue that God had created two classes of substance, a mental world and a physical world, while Newton spent more time engrossed in his alchemical researches than working out the laws of motion. Yet their discoveries led to an enduring split between religion and science with which we live to this day. The Church could no longer claim to understand how the universe worked, for its mediaeval cosmology had been swept aside. As the mental and physical worlds drifted further apart, God became a shadowy figure behind the scenes, whose only function was winding up the mainspring of the universe. In the past 100 years, the science of psychology has redefined the mental world along essentially humanist lines, a mind-set that can be traced back to Sigmund Freud (1927), who saw religion as a massive defence against neurosis. Even Carl Jung was careful to stay within the bounds of psychology when defining the soul as “the living thing in Man, that which lives of itself and causes life” (1959: p. 26).

Our patients have no such reservations. We know from a survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation (Faulkner, 1997) that over 50% of service users hold religious or spiritual beliefs that they see as important in helping them cope with mental illness, yet do not feel free, as they would wish, to discuss these beliefs with the psychiatrist. Need there be such a divide between psychiatrists and their patients? If we care to look at some of the advances in physics over the past 75 years, we find good cause to think again.

In the light of quantum mechanics, Newton’s view of a physical world that is substantial, fixed and independent of mind is no longer tenable. For example, the famous wave–particle experiment shows that when a beam of light is shone through a narrow slit so that it falls on a particle detector, subatomic packets of light called quanta strike the detector screen like miniature bullets. Change the apparatus to two slits side by side and the light coming through the slits generates a wave interference pattern, just as ripples criss-cross when two stones are dropped side by side into a pond. Particles become waves and waves become particles. Both of these dimensional realities have equal validity and cannot be divorced from the consciousness of the participant–observer. This is but a window onto a greater vista, for current superstring theory postulates many more dimensions than our local space–time can accommodate.

No longer is the electron thought of as a particle that spins around the atom like a miniature solar system. Instead, it is conceptualised as ‘virtual’, being smeared throughout all space in a quantum wave that only collapses as a particle into our physical space–time when the consciousness of the observer is engaged in the act of measurement. Nor can its velocity and position ever both be known at the same time, for when the quantum wave collapses, there is only a statistical probability that the electron will turn up where it is expected. It may just materialise hundreds, thousands or even millions of miles away. When it does so, it arrives at that place instantaneously, transcending the limits of both space and time. Here is what three eminent physicists have to say.

“The fundamental process of nature lies outside space–time but generates events that can be located in space–time.” (Stapp, 1977: p. 202)

“Ultimately, the entire universe (with all its particles, including those constituting human beings, their laboratories, observing instruments, etc.) has to be understood as a single undivided whole, in which analysis into separately and independently existent parts has no fundamental status.” (Bohm, 1983: p. 174)

“The universe exists as formless potentia in myriad possible branches in the transcendent domain and becomes manifest only when observed by conscious beings.” (Goswami, 1993: p. 141)

When consciousness collapses the wave function into the space–time of our perceptual world, mind and matter arise simultaneously, like two sides of one coin. The brain, of course, is crucial in this; mind, the capacity for individual self-awareness, is constellated with each physical self. Consciousness is then perpetuated through repeated further collapse of the wave function. (The process can be compared with the individual frames of a film flowing together to create movement.) In this way, we are continually generating what we think of as ‘reality’, characterised by memories, our personal histories and an enduring sense of identity. (Fortunately for us, our shared world of sense perception has structural stability, not because it is independent of consciousness but because the probability wave from which it arises has been collectively generated by all conscious beings throughout time.)

Quantum effects show up most readily at the subatomic level, but empirical research into largescale systems has also demonstrated that mind can influence matter. For example, random number generators have been shown, over thousands of trials, to yield scores correlating with the mental intention of the experimenter (Schmidt, 1987). More striking still are those unaccountable events we call miracles. Since the wave function contains, in potentia, all that ever was, is and shall be, there is no limit in principle to what is possible. Why should not a mind of such exceptional power as that of Jesus collapse the wave uniquely and thereby turn water into wine?

Evidence for the non-locality of consciousness was first demonstrated over 25 years ago, when it was shown that experimental subjects who are emotionally attuned can synchronise their brain waves at a distance from each other (Targ & Puthoff, 1974). Remote viewing and precognition have since been firmly established on an empirical basis (Radin, 1997). The efficacy of prayer has been researched (Byrd, 1988), as have more than 150 controlled studies on healing (Benor, 1992). Such findings merit the epithet ‘paranormal’ only if we view them through Newtonian glasses. Who can therefore say what does not exist in the quantum domain, from the supreme consciousness we call God, to those sensed presences (often of the newly departed) that psychiatrists refer to as pseudo-hallucinations, down to unruly spirits that, according to the traditions of many societies, blight the lives of those they persecute?

When we enquire into the beliefs our patients hold, such matters deserve to be discussed with a genuinely open mind. We do not have the answers and indeed our patients may sometimes be closer to the truth than we know. Nor are we required to affirm a particular religious or spiritual viewpoint but simply to treat the often strange experiences told us by our patients as authentic. This can sometimes be uncomfortable, for we are trained to judge with confidence the difference between fantasy and reality and to diagnose accordingly. Yet it comes a whole lot easier once we concede the limitations of space–time, which we can do by taking an unprejudiced intellectual position or experientially through spiritual practice.

People in sound mental health, who sense that beyond the doors of perception lies a greater world, can use such awareness to enrich their lives, be it through prayer, mediumship or mystical reverie. But where there is mental turmoil, whatever its cause, that same sensitivity brings profound distress (Powell, 1988, 2000). Then the psychiatrist who takes into account biological, psychological and spiritual aspects alike is well placed to help. The stigma that so often burdens our patients is not only the result of social opprobrium. It is fuelled by the experience of estrangement from humankind, one that we as psychiatrists can surely help to overcome.


Benor, D. (1992) Healing Research: Holistic Energy Medicine and Spirituality. Munich: Helix.Bohm, D. (1983) Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London: Ark Paperbacks.

Byrd, R. C. (1988) Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in coronary care unit population. Southern Medical Journal, 81, 826–829.Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Freud, S. (1927) The Future of an Illusion. Reprinted (1953–1974) in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (ed. and trans. J. Strachey), vol. 21. London: Hogarth Press.

Goswami, A. (1993) The Self-Aware Universe. New York: Putnam.

Jung, C. (1959) Archetypes and the collective unconscious. In The Collected Works of C. G. Jung (Eds H. Read, Fordham & G. Alder, trans. R. F. C. Hull), Vol. 9, Pt London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Faulkner, A. (1997) Knowing Our Own Minds. London: Mental Health Foundation.

Powell, A. (1998) Soul consciousness and human suffering: psychotherapeutic approaches to healing. Journal Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 4, 101–108. ––– (2000) Beyond space and time – the unbounded psyche. In Brain and Beyond. Edinburgh: Floris Books (in press).

Radin, D. (1997) The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena. New York: Harper Edge. Schmidt, H. (1987) The strange properties of psychokinesis. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 1, 103–118.

Stapp, H. P. (1977) Are superluminal connections necessary? Nuovo Cimento, 40B, 191–204.

Targ, R. & Puthoff, H. E. (1974) Information transmission under conditions of sensory shielding. Nature, 251, 602–607.

(Spirituality and science:a personal view by Andrew Powell. Andrew Powell is former consultant psychotherapist and honorary senior lecturer at the Warneford Hospital and University of Oxford. He is Chair of the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group, Royal College of Psychiatrists (correspondence: c/o Sue Duncan, Royal College of Psychiatrists, 17 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PG)

Spirituality and Rationalism

Prolific Robert Solomon’s latest book is an upbeat reworking of The Joy of Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1999). In that earlier work, Solomon criticized contemporary Anglo-American academic philosophy for desiccating and destroying the joyful quest for wisdom that enticed him (and many others) into philosophy in the first place. In this short book, borrowing liberally from “Joy” and other published writings, Solomon seeks to provide a positive account of what philosophy, conceived in light of its rich heritage, can provide toward living a full and vibrant life here and now. What it can provide, according to Solomon, is “Spirituality” (which I shall capitalize to signal Solomon’s distinctive version), a protean category that, Hegel-like, engages and absorbs everything in sight-from passion, rationality and cosmic trust to tragedy, fatalism and the soul. It is a virtuoso performance by a masterful teacher, engagingly written and surely attractive to a popular audience. Yet its scholarly philosophical impact, as Solomon surely knows, is likely to be minimal, for reasons I will mention later.

But first, a synopsis. Spirituality is wrestled away from religion and naturalized as “the thoughtful love of life” (his “hallmark-card phrase” (ix)). Religion has apparently long seemed largely repellent to Solomon, its history “a horror story” (xiii), its dogmas incredible, its organizations dangerous, its piety stifling to true Spirituality. Instead, he seeks “a nonreligious, noninstitutional, nontheological, nonscriptural, nonexclusive sense of spirituality, one which is not self-righteous, which is not based on Belief, which is not dogmatic, which is not antiscience, which is not other-worldly, which is not uncritical or cultist or kinky.” (xii) More positively, Spirituality is both thought and passion:

Spirituality means to me the grand and thoughtful passions of life and a life lived in accordance with those grand thoughts and passions. Spirituality embraces love, trust, reverence, and wisdom, as well as the most terrifying aspects of life, tragedy, and death.” (6)

It is a “mode of being” (9) that is an “expansion of the self” (7), a Nietzschean process of self-overcoming and growth, the full rich Good Life for a human being whose only world is this world.

Chapter 1 distances Spirituality from religion, makes friendly with science, and basically identifies Spirituality with philosophy. Solomon firmly excludes recourse to anything transcending this life; views of the Beyond are stumbling metaphors, and mystical experiences are rare and ineffable, unavailable and unhelpful. “In place of the dubious purpose of transcending life, let us defend the ideal of transcending ourselves in life.” (24) Granted, traditional religion “is primarily belonging” not believing (12) (hence the essential irrelevance of theology), and this is something Solomon endorses, but the belonging he seeks includes everyone, not just some favored sect. Naturalized Spirituality is not science, but there is no conflict, only synergy, between them. Philosophy as “an attempt to come to grips with the perennial, personal, and universal human problems of meaning” (26) was once kin to Spirituality, though now it seems a distant relation. But philosophy can reclaim its rightful inheritance, by embracing myth, passion and fate. “Philosophy, as Plato clearly saw, is a spiritual practice.” (27)

Chapter 2 explores Spirituality as passion. In Solomon’s view, passion is not necessarily irrational; indeed, some passions-particularly (erotic) love, reverence and trust-are “definitive of rationality” (28). A passionate life is “defined by emotions, by impassioned engagements and quests, by embracing affections.” (29) Certain emotions, to be sure, are ruled out: envy, resentment, war hysteria, racism-even fanaticism for Texas football (31). Yet Nietzsche had it right in conceiving of “the overflowing spirituality of a passionate life” (43).

Chapter 3 examines Spirituality as “cosmic trust,” “a determined stance toward the world” (44), “. way of being in the world” (45). It is “authentic trust,” an acceptance born of experience, refined by reflection, and intentionally chosen. Once again envy and resentment emerge as the villainous opposites (53f), but beyond them lie contentment and forgiveness-indeed, “forgiving the world for the misfortunes it (inevitably) inflicts upon us.” (57)

Chapter 4 construes Spirituality as rationality, not dry abstracted thought, but engaged passionate thoughtfulness. Reason is not the enemy of the passions, but their friend. Indeed, says Solomon, “I want to suggest that reason and the passions are not only complementary. They are ultimately one and the same.” Reason thus understood is “contingent on our human natures, and on our particular cultures as well;” emotions constitute “our ultimate ends in life, the things we really do and should care about,” and reason helps to achieve those ends and thereby enrich our lives (61). Rationality is not limited to instrumental reasoning or abstract ratiocination. Nor is it the pursuit of self-interest narrowly construed. Instead, rationality is “having the right emotions, or caring about the right sorts of things” (70).

Chapter 5 is entitled “Facing Up to Tragedy,” and that is what Solomon wants philosophy to help us to do, by giving meaning to suffering. He rejects causal stories that allow us to affix blame for tragedy; concepts of justice, desert and entitlement are inapplicable, for “tragedy, not justice, is the ultimate upshot of life” (80). Since tragedy cannot be explained, Solomon foregoes all heavens and hells, however “sweet” and “understandable” they may be (82). Life is simply not fair, and we need to “embrace” tragedy “as an essential part of the life we love and for which we should be so grateful” (88).

In Chapter 6, Solomon insists that Spirituality entails a certain sort of fatalism-not a rigid determinism but something compatible with existential freedom. “Freedom, responsibility, and an acceptance of one’s fate go hand in hand and in may ways depend upon one another.” (91) Fatalism is not an excuse for lack of effort, but acceptance of what is beyond one’s control-one’s culture and times, one’s contingent yet enveloping situation. Fate is freedom’s rootedness, and the appropriate response to one’s fate should be gratitude (“an emotion,” Solomon notes with tongue in cheek, that is “too little appreciated in ethics or in philosophy generally” (104)). We should be grateful because “we are the beneficiaries of a (more or less) benign universe,” even if there is no one to whom we should be grateful: “We might say that one is grateful not only for one’s life but to one’s life-or rather to life-as well.” (105)

Chapter 7 explores the meaning of death. Spirituality accepts “death as the completion of life, as the closure that gives an individual life its narrative significance in a larger whole” (107-8). Solomon berates various philosophical and religious traditions-from ancient Egyptian to modern American-for denying death in various ways, chiefly by fleeing to a transcendent afterlife and forgetting that death will happen to oneself. But he also has critical words for those who make a fetish of death, glorying in the “death experience” (this includes not only “the S and M crowd” and Calvin Klein fashions but also Heidegger and Foucault), and those stoics for whom “death is nothing” (if this slogan implies that life is nothing). Instead, “the meaning of death comes down to the meaning of life, nothing less, and nothing more.” (119)

The culminating Chapter 8 links Spirituality to self, soul and spirit. Spirituality is “enlargement of the self” (123), expanding our self-identity (or is it our sense of identity?) from the isolated individual to the social soul-full self. (Solomon here takes a three-page excursion into Asian philosophy (130-132).) Rather than a Cartesian (or Augustinian) “vast and largely unexplored inner cavern” (133), the soul should be pictured in social terms: “One’s identity is a social construct. An identity crisis is a social crisis.” (136) Soul is not a “metaphysical eternal nugget” but a process of transformation from narrow and impoverished individuality through discipline and Spirituality to broad and rich relationship with the world (139-140).

Reactions to this book will vary with the audience. Undergraduates will enjoy Solomon’s lively prose and vivid presentation of Existentialist views that connect to their tender and burgeoning sense of self. Humanists hankering to talk about the meaning of their lives-or seeking a “philosophy of life”-without recourse to transcendence will gladly join in Solomon’s quest for wisdom and a “thoughtful love of life.” People who retain, or seek, a sense of transcendence will be alternately bemused by Solomon’s tethering of spirit to this world and appalled at his broad-brush caricatures of religion.

But what about Anglo-American (chiefly but not solely “analytic”) academic philosophers? Since they are the targets of much of Solomon’s polemics, will they rise up in wounded indignation to set him straight? Not likely. More probably, their reaction will be a collective shrug, and then back to business. Solomon simply has not presented a case in ways that they will find clear and cogent enough to engage. It is not that he writes turgid prose; on the contrary. The problem rather is his affinity for thinking, as he puts it in the Introduction, “in the spirit of Hegel,” where large concepts and themes are painted with broad brushes, layered over with colorful anecdotes, and connected by the copula “is” to many apparently quite different concepts. Thus Spirituality for Solomon is identified in one way or another with philosophy, rationality, passion, fate, self, soul, reverence, trust, contentment, forgiveness, and Lord knows what else. In this kind of light, everything “is” something else, maybe everything else, and careful analysis of distinctions and connections goes out the window. Moreover, almost everything is grist for Solomon’s mill-from Heidegger to Lao Tzu to TV shows-with little concern for levels of depth and significance. Solomon’s popularity comes at a price.

In a way the inevitable neglect of this book by professional philosophers is a pity, for Solomon is pursuing broad and vital themes that could well be engaged by others, for both private and public benefit. Moreover, the fault lies on both sides. Solomon would point a nagging finger at academic professionals, so caught up in their scholastic desk jobs that they have lost all sense of philosophy as a way of life. But Solomon needs to make a more enticing offer to these academics-by entering into their painstaking labors of analysis and argument. There is much in his work that a sensitive contemporary thinker who has given up on transcendence can enjoy. But there is much more work-more rigorous and careful work-to be done before that enjoyment can become truly philosophical enlightenment.


Solomon, Robert C., Spirituality for the Skeptic: The Thoughtful Love of Life, Oxford University Press, 2002, 159pp, $26.00 (hbk), ISBN 0195134672 (Reviewed by William Lad Sessions, Washington and Lee University)


Metaphysics is hard to define. The term itself means “beyond physics”, but it’s hard to get more precise than that without drifting into controversy.

Let’s look at what metaphysics is not. Newton’s theories about gravity, Einstein’s theories of relativity, and most of the work on quantum mechanics are clearly not metaphysics. These theories make specific predictions about observable phenomena. The theories are subject to being disproven because we can compare their predictions to actual results that we can get in the real world. For example, if we were to state that “for every atom in this universe, there is a corresponding atom in a parallel universe” then this is not physics because it cannot be disproven: we cannot presently detect the presence of atoms in parallel universes.

This brings up an interesting problem for metaphysics. The theory that all matter is composed of tiny particles called atoms was considered metaphysics at one time. When people began to invent instruments capable of detecting such tiny things, atomic theory moved out of metaphysics into physics. So metaphysics is always “at the frontier” and some of it is sure to become physics in the future.

Religion is also not metaphysics. Religion is based on a set of convictions that may well make predictions about the world or explain why certain phenomena occur, but certain kinds of change are not allowed without disturbing the integrity of the religion. This is not to say that religions can’t change, but their overall integrity has to be preserved to some extent. For example, some religions (such as Greek Mythology) have explained that mysterious phenomena are caused by many different gods. Within the context of such a religion, it would be impossible to change this belief to say that all of the phenomena are caused by a single god. To do this would be essentially to invent a new and contradictory religion.

This raises another interesting problem for metaphysics. It may often tread on sacred ground and come into conflict with religion. Socrates was one casualty of this tendency.

These considerations give us some boundaries, and we can define metaphysics more readily inside those boundaries.

Metaphysics is concerned with explaining the way things are in the physical world. The statement that “Evil does not exist” is not metaphysics, whereas the statement that “all things are composed of smaller things, which are in turn composed of still smaller things, and so on down to infinity” is definitely metaphysics.

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy, and part of the answer to the question “What is Metaphysics” requires us to define the difference between science and philosophy. In science, it’s important for new explanations to make predictions that can be tested by experiments. But this is not a requirement of philosophy. Instead, we can try to attack the logical coherence of an explanation to show that it degenerates into absurdity or requires us to hold two contradictory assumptions. In the case of the above statement that all things are made up of smaller things and so on to infinity, this explanation is clearly untestable because we’ll never have an instrument capable of detecting anything that is infinitely small. Also in science, we could reject this theory because it requires us to make some big assumptions, and we can explain everything we’ve seen so far with a simpler theory that makes fewer assumptions. Nonetheless in philosophy one might attack this notion by showing that it ultimately results in an empty universe where nothing is made up of nothing, and there is no ultimate substance anywhere at all. Similar to a ladder that goes down into a hole, and extends down to infinity with nothing to hold it up. (This “infinite ladder” argument is a sort of negative argument that we might not feel comfortable making within the context of a religion. Also in religion one might counter this argument by stating that it is a miracle which only provides more evidence for the truth of the religion.)

So in summary, here is one answer to the question “What is Metaphysics?”:

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that explains physical phenomena using reason and logic in a way that falls outside the bounds of either religion or science.

Ecomonics & Ethics

Business ethics, it seems, has finally caught the attention of economists. Businesses, in some parts of the world, have become integral participants in such causes as protecting the environment and alleviating poverty from economically depressed localities. This investment in ethics, however, is confronted with the problem that economists have no other way to approach reality without concentrating on questions of utility. A similar phenomenon is occurring within the economics profession, where economists such as James Buchanan1 and Amartya Sen2 have become outspoken advocates for social and ethical investing through work, savings, and company loyalty.

For these values, altruistic behavior can be analyzed as a positive external effect of consumption, where the individual makes a voluntary contribution. Buchanan and Sen both rely upon utilitarianism for their analysis of voluntary contributions, although they acknowledge that society would be aided if these values were more independently established. From the vantage point of society, however, it would be beneficial for the values of social and ethical investing to be more firmly grounded in a consistent rationale. Utilitarianism provides a poor basis for such analysis and can be manipulated easily for less than admirable purposes. For these values to be widely accepted, they should not be related to any order of values that exceeds the simple test of social well-being. Sen states this principle thus:

The nature of modern economics has been substantially impoverished by the distance that has grown between economics and ethics … [economics] can be more productive by paying greater and more explicit attention to the ethical considerations that shape human behaviour and judgement. It is not my purpose to write off what has been or is being achieved, but definitely to demand more.3

In the last twenty years, economists and moral philosophers have renewed a conversation that was interrupted during the heyday of positivist methodology in both disciplines.4 While considerable gaps remain between the modes of expression and habits of thought in these disciplines, there is today considerable room for productive interdisciplinary dialogue between economists and moral philosophers.

This change in the validity of using ethical-moral values in economic analysis has little to do with the criticism of nineteenth-century authors such as Thomas Carlyle or John Ruskin, who attributed the destruction of social ties to the influence of capitalism. According to them, moral values functioned as the backbone of society during the late Victorian era. The destruction of social ties can be attributed more to the Weberian work ethic than to the structure of a market economy.

We are, perhaps, in the final stage of the process that economic science began in the eighteenth century, namely, its search for disciplinary boundaries and foundations. The first phase of this process sought to separate morals and politics. It was sometime later, however, that Adam Smith and David Ricardo began to establish economics as a respectable science. Since the late-eighteenth century, economics has developed independent disciplinary foundations and, in successive stages, has subjected more and more domains of human life to economic analysis. This phenomenon has come to be known in the literature as the “imperialism of economics.”5

Nowadays, economics is viewed as the social subsystem with the greatest capacity to integrate the other social sciences. Yet, surprisingly and for good reason, in recent years the relationship between ethics and economics has become much less hostile. In order to illustrate this change, it may be useful to compare the relationship between ethics and economics at the dawning of the modern age (where the economic aspect played a relatively insignificant role in moral science) and in our time (where the growing interest of economists is to analyze the economic implications of ethical conduct). That Alfred Marshall knew how to extract the essence of this process can be seen in his now-famous quip: “The servant has turned into the housewife.” From this point forward the ethical aspect would be placed in a similar trajectory with economics–although in quite different circumstances.

The preceding raises two related questions, which this article will address separately: (1) What are the historical factors that led to the progressive emancipation of economics from moral science, and, ultimately, to its status as an independent discipline? (2) As a result of this emancipation, has the relationship between ethics and economics been fundamentally altered? Or, has this fundamental shift provoked a renewed interest in ethics on the part of economists?

How Economic Science Discovered Its Limits

Economics was, in its origin, integrally related to ethics. Sen reminds us of the contrast between the “non-ethical” feature of modern economics and its genesis as an offshoot of ethics.6 At the time of its inception, then, the language of economics was comprised of normative elements. Nevertheless, over time, economics came to be considered an autonomous science, and its language and value judgments become increasingly more “positive.”

This dissociation of economics from ethics is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, it is regarded by some as beneficial, enabling economists to develop analytic techniques and make rational predictions of future human behavior, whereas others view these “benefits” as fatal flaws leading to the imperialism of economic analysis over ethics. As analyzed, the transformation with respect to the traditional order of medieval times was finally complete.

In traditional societies, there is a multiplicity of small communities, including kinship networks and dispersed ethnic groups.7 Between these communities market interchange is often restricted, and economic life is regulated by local conventions. Markets may exist within such communities, but they are embedded in wider systems of non-market relationships, and the behavior of transactors is governed by complex moral codes and informal sanctions.

The first indication of emancipation with respect to moral norms became visible during the resultant secularization of the Renaissance. Consequently, morals were siphoned off from other public domains such as politics and economics. The process of separation that began during the Renaissance fostered a gradual substitution of morals for a “worldly providence”: the belief in a charitable role for the market. The rise of the market order changed this situation dramatically. It broke down the old ties of community by integrating them into an extensive division of labor governed by the abstract logic of commodity exchange.8 Personal ties between producers were replaced by the anonymous process of commercial transactions. Furthermore, this transformation required a change in the nature of morality itself. It is difficult to see how any kind of general morality can arise spontaneously from an entirely anonymous process of exchange.

Furthermore, the birth of national states during the sixteenth century had the effect of accelerating a tendency that is now termed the politicizing of wealth. The growing necessities of the new states forced economists, merchants, and bureaucrats to search for more stable sources of wealth. There was a mutual relation of interdependency between consumers and producers, but wealth was now subordinated to political power. Mercantilism, as it came to be called, made no sense because it did not allow for the possibility of distinguishing political from economic history. Thus, politics predominated, and the relation with the economy was hierarchically ordered.

The new argument was that moral categories were applicable to small societies but not to the powerful new nation states. In mercantilist doctrine, wealth (economics) and power (politics) appear to be mixed, which means that economic policies are decided upon through political mechanisms. In the end, the prosperity and the power of the state are what is sought after. The term political economy (Montchretien) appears now in order to designate the study of “economic” media to surmise “political” ends, which entails that the acquisition of wealth is at the service of political power. Thus, economic boundaries begin to offer the first steps under the vigilant protection of its older sibling–politics.

Adam Smith functions not as a link to this process but rather as a purveyor of a series of ideas. However, on the level of principle, Smith completes the rupture between economics and politics, although the transition takes place in successive stages. The decisive innovation here is that economics was liberated from making normative claims, which freed it to move naturally in the direction of positivism. Smith’s originality was not rooted in the newness of his ideas as much as in the way he reassembled them to create something new. Through his innovation Smith severed the mercantilist unity between politics and economics; economics was now free to develop its own disciplinary foundations. To recap for a moment, then, the progression of Smith’s ideas follows the pattern of first eradicating moral boundaries, then constructing political boundaries, and finally developing economics into a respectable science. In order to analyze economics, Smith’s focus needed to shift away from the social arena. The nineteenth century witnessed the development of specialized social sciences such as economics that were not ostensibly interested in providing a grand framework or spectrum by which to analyze social behavior.

This was the time when economics first demonstrated “colonizing tendencies” by neglecting its earlier mission to function as the integrating center for the other social sciences.

The Colonizing Tendency of Economics

All social sciences are subject to the law of decreasing marginal returns, and economics is no exception to this rule. The specific themes of analysis and the profound level that may be reached tend to decrease over time. In the early development of economics, economists explored new territories by using models based on axioms such as the egoism of the agent and rationality in economic decision-making. The maturity of the paradigm was accompanied by a reduction in the fields still undiscovered by science. Since this time, economists have been working on almost the same themes that Adam Smith announced in The Wealth of Nations. By force, the results each time had to be poorer, decreasing the possible areas of exploration.

These pioneers directed their attention in diverse directions. The tendencies are obvious in authors such as Augustin A. Cournot, with respect to mathematics, and are particularly intense in the work of Edwin Chadwick, a pioneer in the economic analysis of law and of public goods (e.g., railway systems and water suppliers). But the field of sociology is where the most interesting developments have been made, particularly following J. S. Mill’s attempt to elaborate an economically based sociology.

Nevertheless, it was the intense development of economics in Victorian England that sparked controversy over the range and applicability of its method. As one of the newest eighteenth-century social sciences, economics enjoyed a privileged position in the university because of its rigor and practicality. The debate within the newly emerging social sciences over which social science discipline was greater was especially intense among sociologists and economists. These discussions raged among the intellectual disciples of Adam Smith, but it was J. S. Mill, Alfred Marshall, and John Maynard Keynes who gradually won the battle for the autonomy of economic science.

This separation or initial demarcation of fields produced a notable change in the direction of economic science, which can be characterized as a gradual turn from “interdisciplinary” positions (e.g., Smith analyzing the sources of the wealth of nations) to more specialized and inclusive projects from the relation of economics to the rest of the social sciences (e.g., the formation of prices). It follows logically from the development of economics as an independent science that it would refine its analytical techniques and clarify its disciplinary objectives.

The interrelation and overlapping of scientific disciplines–a soft imperialism–is a phenomenon common to all social sciences, but economics has an advantage that is added to its pioneering character, namely, to go forward in relation to the other social sciences. The advantage that economics has over the other social sciences is its simplicity. The theoretical economists are, by definition, creators of descriptive models of reality. The key for a successful construction of systems or models has to do with the model’s simplicity and demand for instrumental order: Simpler phenomena are easier to understand than complex phenomena. The question of a model’s simplicity is not exhausted by the logical consistency of mathematical rigor. There is something more important: Economic science has known how to maintain a firm nucleus (core assumptions) of axioms that are the base of any analysis. I am referring to the hypothesis of optimization, equilibrium, and rationality in decision-making, which implies a stability of preferences.

One of the essential differences that economics maintains from other sciences is the standardization of the previously mentioned basic axioms, guaranteeing the internal coherence of economic models used to reach a reasonable level of generalization. The combination of these axioms influencing any economic prediction means that the falsification of a prediction does not directly address a model’s core assumptions; it simply suggests refining the model.9 This distinction is shared by many sciences attempting to immunize the science’s fundamental principles against specific critiques. Thus, a model’s basic hypotheses, assumptions, or axioms are never the objects of falsification.

Mathematics is a powerful symbol of the internal logical consistency that economics has developed during this century. Nevertheless, it has been accused of making a non-critical use of mathematical methods and of converting these methods into a weapon of economic imperialism. One should be cautious when referring to the mathematizing of economics. To support its position within the category of sciences, economics has been forced to accept the onslaught of mathematical methods. Perhaps it has gone too far in this direction, but the way to critique this would have to be based on principles such as: to conduct “good” economics without unnecessary mathematics; or possibly to show the vacuity in the mathematical foci under certain circumstances. The problem is shown to be non-existent when the true dimensions are reduced: to make good/bad use of mathematical normalization.

In all, the critique of positive economics often adopts other forms–for example, that the science of economics had finished in a steep canyon without exit where political economy had been replaced by econometrics; that the areas of economics have been converted into annexes of the exact sciences; and that the recruitment of personnel in large financial engineering and stock market trading firms is composed of physicists, engineers, and mathematicians. A correction of the totality is not valid, but it should be asked whether the use of this technique adds anything that we did not already know. The idea of economic imperialism appears to disregard the followers of certain currents at the margin of neoclassic orthodoxy such as the movement known as socio-economics. This disposition is motivated by the neoclassic tendency to apply the criteria of economic rationality to non-economic behavior such as maternity or religion. The neoclassical quest for exactness has gone from simplification to the loss of contextual references. The conclusion is straightforward: The neoclassical attempt to understand non-economic behavior in an exclusively rationalist way is unacceptable.

To avoid confusion, it may be helpful to clarify that the idea of economic imperialism is really nothing more than a descriptive label. The idea is an outgrowth of the concept of homo economicus (together with the marginal analysis), that has permitted economics to invade the boundaries of other social sciences. But this–in itself–is neither good nor bad; it simply is.10 This fact–taken by itself–is no more fearful than the roundness of the earth. However, the expansion of our field of analysis is indeed relevant, thereby gaining something in terms of knowledge, which enables us to come that much closer to the truth.

If we measure the success of a science by its capacity to explain a more or less wide range of phenomena, economics is the science that has had the most success among all the social sciences. Likewise, this success is closely connected to the idea of homo economicus (HE). Of course, this idea is nothing more than a methodological artifice–a useful supposition. It would serve as a motive for happiness if economic definitions (based on the HE hypothesis) were better, from the empirical point of view, than the alternatives. A critique of such imperialism would have to demonstrate that the new economic foci have not advanced–that they are logically inconsistent–inconsistent with the facts or something of the sort. If, in fact, they aspire to make any sense, they would have to be empirical critiques, performed on a case by case basis.

There are two cases that illustrate what might qualify as being scientific–one of which was more successful than the other. The successful example is taken from the theory of public election. James Buchanan examined the logic of the democratic process and its relation to the action of large social groups.11 Perhaps less promising have been the results obtained by Gary Becker in the area of the economics of the family, which demonstrate how the seemingly unrelated aspects of economics impact the family.

The Perplexity of the Economist with Respect to Moral Behavior

Given the imperialistic tendency of economics, it makes sense that the concept of homo economicus has been applied explicitly to the area of ethics. One could consider, perhaps, that the discipline is returning once again to its origins and that it will find itself resembling the moral science from whose womb it was born.

In pre-capitalist societies, society was viewed holistically, with religion and morality acting as the glue that held individuals and institutions together. Later, due largely to secularization, politics replaced religion and morality as the principal factor in social cohesion. Economics grew progressively, reinforced by its method until it became an autonomous science. Today, after the long road of three centuries, it seems that we have found a new pact; the difference now is that economics has forced the issue of its hegemony upon the other social sciences. The current preponderance of economic analysis of social phenomena does not seem to be excessive; the process was motivated by the status of respectability that the discipline began to acquire along with its rising status.

The reunion between ethics and morals is apparent in the benevolent nature of the man for whom life has gone well, with the old friend from infancy coming less to his aid. Finally, ethics–separated from political and economic boundaries–is allowed to enter the economics department through the back door without drawing attention to itself in order to perform its necessary tasks. Like the clandestine immigrant, the contract is temporary, and at some point it will have to be considered whether its services are still required.

This invasion into the area of ethics by economics has taken place at distinct levels. In the first place, the ethical dimensions of economic behavior must be seriously considered: If we suppose that all persons are egoists–i.e., they act for personal ends–what sense does it make to speak of ethics? From this point derives the idea that ethical norms are principally mutually beneficial accords whose final intent has to do with maximizing individual well-being in situations characterized by interdependence.

The search here is not to discover the rules for the good life; it is, rather, to understand why individuals from diverse cultures typically adhere to certain self-imposed ethical rules that are constant (inter-culturally) with universal ethical behavior. This raises a question, however: From where does ethical behavior derive? Moral codes are not static entities that remain fixed for all time but evolve with changing economic and social conditions. In fact, even the most homogeneous society normally encounters social conflict concerning ethical beliefs and practices.

Recently, a number of economists have considered how moral codes evolve.12 The central idea is that economic life requires cooperation between agents, and that both encourage morality and are facilitated by it. Moreover, cooperation, initially, is based on self-interest, sanctions, and mutual policing, but in the course of time, as social conventions arise, it acquires a moral dimension. This focus, which can be called the positive theory of ethics–does not always appear to be descriptive. Often it is nothing more than an implicit argument that underlies an explicitly normative framework.13 Ethics maintains a role within positive economics because ethical commitments affect individual choices and, therefore, also economic outcomes because economic institutions and policies affect ethical commitments.14 Economists do not deny that individuals live under a societal moral code, but they tend to believe that this implicit moral framework can be excised from economic analysis–whether pure or applied–with little analytical loss.

On the other hand, the concept of homo economicus has been used with an openly normative connotation. This would entail constructing an ethics for human beings inspired by the concept of HE, and by delineating rules to be followed in particular situations, which would mean constructing a system of moral norms from the reference point of HE disregarding (more or less) traditional moral and religious precepts.

Normative judgments and ethical premises are often presented in economic analysis, but this is rarely the result of a conscious commitment to a particular ethical stance. As a community of scholars, economists speak in this way not so much out of a shared ethical commitment, but rather because of the manner in which their shared theoretical framework views the world.15 Economists do not need to understand the concepts and criteria that guide the evaluation of economic outcomes and processes, but this does not mean that ethics does not play an important role with respect to economics. In fact, it is impossible to be a good economist without doing some ethical analysis.

In any case, from the perspective of economics, traditional morals might be preserved only if they make sense within the utilitarian-contractual scheme. An example of this focus could be the work of D. P. Gauthier and, in part, the work of James Buchanan (although this has more to do with a positive than normative theory of ethics). Gauthier affirms that “the well-functioning of a market economic order does apparently not need any specific moral behavior. Even a minimal moral would not be necessary.”16

The utilitarian-contractual tradition conceives moral behavior to be the result of rational bargaining among well-informed and self-interested actors. If we suppose that such agents lack the means to make interpersonal utility comparisons, then they would agree to distribute the gains from cooperation in accordance with a principle of “minimax relative concession.”17 This principle would distribute fairly the gains from social interaction relative to the situation that would prevail in the absence of agreement. Buchanan’s basic idea is that economic participants are better off when they share in a portion of the firm’s work; thus, the ethical aspect arises from people working more and saving more as a means of improving their individual and collective well-being.18 Because of their anonymous character, market transactions cannot be governed by moral responsibilities of a personalized nature. What is required, then, is a set of general ethical principles such as universal honesty and respect for laws and conventions governing exchange. The foregoing demonstrates the difficulty of developing an ethical framework for conducting economic exchange in a publicly credible fashion, while also maintaining some degree of moral transcendence. Therefore, it may be asked why such ethical conduct spontaneously surfaces between individuals.

A number of recent studies have found that economists behave in a more self-interested fashion than non-economists: First-year graduate students in economics were much more likely than other graduate students to free-ride in experiments that called for private contributions to public goods.19 In my opinion, here rests the essence of the problem we are describing. It is well-known that among economists there is a growing interest in ethics. But the characteristic feature of this economic and ethical analysis is its diverse interdisciplinary character, particularly with respect to sociology20 and philosophy.21

What seems to prevail among the ranks of “pure economists” is an attitude of perplexity toward moral or ethical behavior. The lack of accurate and suitable tools for understanding ethical behavior does not encompass the entirety of the problem. Some economists suffer from a deeper inability to understand what ethical behavior is, which, perhaps, explains why economists have begun to focus increased attention upon the relationship between ethics and economics. The most problematic aspect of delineating an ethical approach to economics has to do with determining ethical starting points and with the formation of beliefs; existing economic models of ethical behavior have not dealt adequately with the subject of belief formation.


Economists are becoming increasingly interested in the analysis of moral behavior because of the difficulty in successfully applying the concept of homo economicus in ethical situations. Some research explains a formal representation of this behavior in terms of maximizing the utility function subject to restriction. However, in general, a bearing of curiosity and perplexity dominates in such conduct.

Ethics and morality figure prominently in economic life, but that influence has been largely ignored until recently. Despite major advances in game theory, contracts, and organizations, the subject of economics is still dominated by the traditional assumption that agents are entirely self-interested and unconstrained by moral considerations.

In this article we have analyzed how one can interpret this renewed interest in ethics within the field of economics as the natural end of a process of mutual relationships that was severed when economics became an autonomous science. We saw that the distinct phases of this process of emancipation culminated in the work of Adam Smith, which, in turn, enabled the discipline of economics to invade the boundaries of other social sciences. This phenomenon was called the imperialism of economics. In the last twenty years economists have increasingly applied their analytical techniques to the resolution of social ethical problems. It is within this nexus that the apparent re-unification of the two sciences can be observed; however, the circle is again closed.

Nevertheless, the conclusion of this article is that it is impossible to speak in these terms for two reasons: First, the character and content of the old ethics has little to do these days with moral behavior. Furthermore, the roles have changed: Economics is now the social science with the greatest academic and cultural prestige, while it was ethics that once had priority during the first stage of the process. Ethics exercised its control with a holistic view of society, whereas the focus has now changed to analyze why individuals from different cultural backgrounds adopt similar ethical and cultural norms with respect to moral behavior. It is also possible to develop a normative vision connected with the structure of homo economicus. In any case, it seems that this should not be considered more than a mild colonization of economics over ethics.


  1. James M. Buchanan, Ethics and Economic Progress (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994).
  2. Amartya Sen, “Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (1977): 317—433.
  3. Amartya Sen, On Ethics and Economics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), 7, 9.
  4. Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. McPherson, “Taking Ethics Seriously: Economics and Contemporary Moral Philosophy,” Journal of Economic Literature XXXI (June 1993): 723.
  5. L. Udéhn, “The Limits of Economic Imperialism,” in Interfaces in Economic and Social Analysis, ed. U. Himmelfarb (London: Routledge, 1992).
  6. Sen, On Ethics and Economics, 2.
  7. R. Rowthorn, “An Economist’s View,” in Economics and Ethics?, ed. P. Groenewegen (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 28.
  8. Ibid.
  9. This claim is contested by Sen: “The wide use of the extremely narrow assumption of self-interested behaviour has seriously limited the scope of predictive economics and made it difficult to pursue a number of important economic relationships that operate through behavioural versatility.” On Ethics and Economics, 79.
  10. The reason is that “even the oddly narrow characterization of human motivation, with ethical considerations eschewed, may nevertheless serve a useful purpose in understanding the nature of many social relations of importance in economics.” Ibid., 9.
  11. Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965).
  12. See Friedrich von Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, 3 vols. (London: Routledge, 1973); R. Sugden, The Economics of Rights, Co-operation and Welfare (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986); and R. Rowthorn, An Economist’s View, 28.
  13. The proper question is: “Does the so-called ‘economic man’, pursuing his own interests, provide the best approximation to the behavior of human beings, at least in economic matters.” Sen, On Ethics & Economics, 16.
  14. Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. McPherson, Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 214.
  15. F. Gill, “Comment: On Ethics and Economic Science,” in Economics and Ethics?, ed. P. Groenewegen (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 153—54.
  16. D. P. Gauthier, Morals by Agreement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 83.
  17. Hausman and McPherson, “Taking Ethics Seriously,” 710.
  18. Buchanan, Ethics and Economic Progress.
  19. G. Marwell and R. Ames, “Economists Free Ride, Does Anyone Else?: Experiments on the Provision of Public Goods, IV,” Journal of Public Economics 15, 3 (1981): 295-310.
  20. Amitai Etzioni, The Moral Dimension: Towards a New Economics (London: Macmillan, 1988).
  21. See Martha C. Nussbaum and Amartya Sen, The Quality of Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

Jesus M. Zaratiegui
Professor of Economics
University of Navarra, Spain