R.G. Collingwood on the History of the Science of Human Action

From the footnote on page 163 of “Economics as a Philosophical Science“:

To quote a few outstanding examples: Plato, followed by Aristotle, distinguishes between moral and economic action, and attaches great importance to the distinction; the state, for both these philosophers, is a moral activity which has its roots in, or grows out of, economic activities, and the essence of moral action is that it should at once control and safeguard economic action. Machiavelli and Hobbes did their best work in the analysis of economic activity and the insistence upon its reality and necessity. Kant sketches a philosophy of economic action when he lays down the doctrine of a hypothetical imperative, distinct from the categorical imperative of morality; Hegel works this hint out, with help from Plato and Aristotle, into a complete theory of economic society as a distinguishable “moment” within political society. And Croce, while sweeping away most of the Hegelian distinctions as “merely empirical”, insists upon the philosophical validity of the concept of “economicity”, beautiful, the true, and the good. It may perhaps be added that modern economics is, historically speaking, an offshoot of ethics, and was first taught from academic chairs of moral philosophy; hence the economist need not hesitate to obey the oracle antiquam exquisite matrem.


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