The "Vanity of the Philosopher"

From Equality to Hierarchy in Post-Classical Economics
Sandra J. Peart and David M. Levy
Attempts to explain the shift from egalitarian Classical economic thought to the difference and hierarchy of post-Classical economic thinking


The "Vanity of the Philosopher" continues the themes introduced in Levy's acclaimed book How the Dismal Science Got Its Name.

Here, Peart and Levy tackle the issues of racism, eugenics, hierarchy, and egalitarianism in classical economics and take a broad view of classical economics' doctrine of human equality. Responding to perennial accusations from the left and the right that the market economy has created either inequality or too much equality, the authors trace the role of the eugenics movement in pulling economics away from the classical economist's respect for the individual toward a more racist view at the turn of the century.

The "Vanity of the Philosopher" reveals the consequences of hierarchy in social science. It shows how the "vanity of the philosopher" has led to recommendations that range from the more benign but still objectionable "looking after" paternalism, to overriding preferences, and, in the extreme, to eliminating purportedly bad preferences. The authors suggest that an approach that abstracts from difference and presumes equal competence is morally compelling.

Sandra J. Peart , Professor of Economics at Baldwin-Wallace College, has published articles on utilitarianism, the methodology of J. S. Mill, and the transition to neoclassicism. This is her fourth book.

David M. Levy is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Research Associate of the Center for Study of Public Choice. This is his third book.

Praise / Awards

  • "Intellectual muckraking at its best. Peart and Levy open closets, unearth skeletons, and, in the process, pin the tale on the philosopher."
    —David Colander, Middlebury College

  • "In their customary idiosyncratic manner, Sandra Peart and David Levy reexamine the way in which the views of classical economists on equality and hierarchy were shifted by contact with scholars in other disciplines, and the impact this had on attitudes towards race, immigration, and eugenics. This is an imaginative and solid work of scholarship, with an important historical message and useful lessons for scholars today."
    —Stanley Engerman, John Munro Professor of Economics and Professor of History, University of Rochester

  • "People in the know on intellectual history and economics await the next book from Peart and Levy with much the same enthusiasm that greets a new Harry Potter book in the wider world. This book delivers the anticipated delights big time!"
    —William Easterly, Professor of Economics and Africana Studies, NYU, and non-resident Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development

  • "Vanity provides a welcome addition to the burgeoning new literature exploring the role that racial themes, eugenic doctrines in particular, played in the development of late nineteenth and early twentieth century economics."
    Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization

  • "Sandra embarrassing and David Levy's 'The Vanity of the Philosopher' is an enlightening look into a potentially embarassing (and certainly neglected by modern economists) period in the history of economic thought."
    —Andrew Terjesen, Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology.

  • Winner: American Library Association (ALA) Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Look Inside

Copyright © 2005, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 344 pages.
  • 25 B&W illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2009
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02388-2

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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