Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Finance Crisis Revisited: Morality's Jurisdiction

T.S.Eliot once said that he was inclined "to approach public affairs from the point of view of a moralist". And in a characteristically insightful essay on Eliot's politics, Lionel Trilling reminds us that Eliot also insisted it is impossible to think of politics and economics independently of morality.

Trilling tells us that this meant "impossible in an ethical sense - the political and economic theorist should not so consider them; and impossible in the practical sense - the theorist cannot construct his theories except on the ground (often unexpressed) of moral assumptions."

The problem for many of us, and it may be an historically unique problem, is to find a way to expand morality's jurisdiction without letting it swallow up everything.

In keeping morality reined in, so that it does not impinge on areas of life where a high level of technical know-how is required, we risk allowing unprecedented crises to spring up - as in the case of the current financial crisis.

However, if we give morality a free hand, so that every business and scientific decision, for instance, is subjected to ethical scrutiny, things will grind to a halt, and life be intolerably boring to everyone except moral busybodies and saints. Next time, we will sharpen up this problem, and then consider how it might be solved.

1 comment:

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