Economics and philosophy

UPDATE 2 – I’ve now done some sorting of the list. OK, the categorisation is inevitably arbitrary but it seemed helpful as the list got so long. More suggestions in the comments. And huge thanks to all who contributed.


Econtwitter is wonderful. Yesterday, an undergraduate emailed me to ask for book recommendations about the overlap between economics and philosophy. I recommended:

Agnar Sandmo Economics Evolving 
D M Hausman and M S McPherson and D Satz Economic analysis, moral philosophy, and public policy 

Then I asked Twitter, and here is the resulting, much longer, list. I won’t editorialise about them, although some are not good undergraduate intros in my view. One striking thing is how few recent overviews there are, however (as @esamjones also pointed out on Twitter). Huge thanks to all who made suggestions. This is a fantastic collective list.

UPDATE Now even more added – but this goes far beyond the original brief for an introduction for an undergraduate. There’s also a bias in the recommendations toward books critical of economics (or at least its ‘mainstream’) and, again, I think for an economics undergraduate a more neutral intro would be a better starting point. Anyway, I leave this here as a list, not a curriculum.


The Worldly Philosophers, Robert Heilbroner

Jon Elster’s Nuts and bolts for the social sciences

General philosophy

Julian Reiss, Philosophy of Economics

Frank Hahn and Martin Hollis’s Philosophy and Economic Theory

Joan Robinson, Economic Philosophy

Harold Kincaid, Don Ross Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Economics

Cartwright & Montuschi Philosophy of Social Science

Ethics/markets/justice/social choice

Nozick Anarchy State and Utopia

Rawls A Theory of Justice

Contested Commodities – Margaret Reading

The Value of Nothing Raj Patel

Several books by Martha Nussbaum

Ken Binmore’s Playing Fair, Just Playing, or Natural Justice

Tomas Sedlacek’s The Economics of Good and Evil

Hausman & McPherson’s Economic analysis & moral philosophy

Emma Rothschild, Economic Sentiments

Jerry Muller, The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought

L’Enfer Des Choses Dupuy & Dumouchel

The Moral Economy Sam Bowles

John Brooms Weighing Goods

Debra Satz Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale

Ben Friedman The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth

Jesse Norman, Adam Smith: What He Thought & Why It Matters, chapters 6-10

Will MacAskill Doing Good Better

Anything by Toby Ord

If You’re an Egalitarian How Come You’re So Rich G A Cohen

M White The Oxford Handbook of Ethics and Economics


Deirdre McCloskey The Rhetoric of Economics

Kenneth Boulding Economics as a Science

Francesco Guala’s work, eg Methodology of Experimental Economics, then Understanding Institutions

Explanation and Human Action by A R Louch

Tony Lawson Reorienting Economics

Sheila Dow Foundations for New Economic Thinking

Wade Hands Reflection without Rules

Better ways of doing economics

Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice & Loyalty

The Social Limits to Growth, Fred Hirsch

Thomas Schelling Micromotives and Macrobehaviour

Mahbub-al-Haq. The Poverty Curtain

Paul Seabright The Company of Strangers

Robert Sugden The Community of Advantage

Kaushik Basu The Republic of Beliefs

Dani Rodrik Economics Rules

Other classics

Adam Smith Theory of Moral Sentiments

Michel Foucault Birth of Biopolitics

F Hayek The Market and Other Orders






12 thoughts on “Economics and philosophy

  1. I’m surprised no one mentioned Joseph Heath’s popular books:
    -Filthy Lucre (an intro to economic thinking through common right- and left-wing fallacies)
    -The Efficient Society (collective action problems)
    -The Rebel Sell (positional goods, collective action problems)
    -Enlightenment 2.0 (less economics-focused, but emphasizes behavioral economics insights into how the cognitive environment is designed)
    -his academic paper “The Benefits of Cooperation” is also very readable; it’s an argument for conceiving of the welfare state in non-altruistic terms

  2. I will add the following: (1) The dictator’s handbook, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, (2) Prisioners of Geography, Tim Marshall, (3) The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, John Micklethwait, Adrian Wooldridge, (4) La llamada de la tribu, Vargas Llosa, (5) Anything about Isaiah Berlin.

  3. It’s not presented as a book about economics and philosophy, but I think Dani Rodrik’s “Economics Rules” is an excellent example of philosophy of social science, and he does cite Nancy Cartwright, a philosophy of science, as a major influence.

  4. Economics and Philosophy? Maybe. Even so, I still think that Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered by Schumacher sits well here. This from Schumacher when discussing the role that nationalised industries needed to play in the early 70s to “…evolve a more democratic and dignified system of industrial administration…”. Could be another strategy to consider alongside those discussed by Diane Coyle in How the market is betraying advanced economies (Social Europe, 17 04 19)

  5. John Dupre’s Human Nature and the Limits of Science (2001) has some relevant chapters on economics, and some more on sociobiology that are fun.

  6. Sour grapes by Elster is one I would add. Terrific on rationality in economics (and social science more generally) and how economics connects to psychology, politics etc. His style is academic, but brilliantly clear. The subtext is a deep plea for interdisciplinary thinking.

  7. Pingback: Philosophy and economics | askblog

  8. Diane, there are SO many!
    But all the links are to Amazon, haven’t you reviewed some?

    It would be really helpful for you to add your own “Top Three” choices, and briefly why. So I could get one for my wife and I.

Comments are closed.