Donald Hay

Social and economic ethics and the basis for public policy

Social science has always had a normative content, seeking to inform social and economic policies. Indeed the desire not only to understand the world, but also to change it, has been the main stimulus to the development of social science disciplines over the years. Economists and other social scientists (including lawyers) have been in the forefront of the formation of public policies in all areas of human life from the late 19th Century onwards, and now play a central role in government all over the world. The question addressed has been: ‘What social and economic arrangements are most conducive to human flourishing?’, though this has often been implicit rather than explicit in policy formation. To answer the question requires indicating what is meant by ‘human flourishing’. This was explored in detail in the previous paper in this series, ‘What does it mean to be human? Christian and social scientific understandings of human beings in society’. But social scientists are often guilty of being less than careful in making clear what understanding of human flourishing is the basis of their policy proposals. So as we review different approaches to social ethics within the social sciences, we need to identify their foundational understandings.

Claire Shuttleworth