Waylaid Dialectic

March 24, 2012

Profound Gratitude

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 12:49 pm

Very few people study development, or economics, or political science, simply because they want to understand the world. Almost all of us have at least some desire to change things. Or, at the very least, to be able to spout off at parties about the changes someone else ought to be doing.

Yet, the moment you enter the world of should, better, ought and must – ‘Jeffrey Sachs should be the head of the World Bank?’, ‘Europe ought to drop its agricultural trade barriers’, ‘The Fed must tackle inflation’, ‘Fiji would be a better place if it was a democracy?’ – you’ve crossed the border and entered the rhelms of  political philosophy.

Why should Sachs get the job?

Because he’d be good at reducing poverty.

Why do we need to reduce poverty?

Because poverty causes suffering.

And why do we need to do anything about suffering?


Eventually, justifying even the most practical of development decisions will lead you to the sorts of questions that philosophers have been mulling over for millennia.

And, even if philosophy isn’t your thing, it’s worth paying some attention to it, even if only occasionally. Or, at least, it is if you want to be in anyway confident that what you’re suggesting is the right thing to do.

For what it’s worth, my views on development are underpinned by a moderately troubled Utilitarianism (basic explanation here).

That being said I don’t profess to being anything of an expert when it comes to political philosophy. Which is why I now have a profound moral debt to Chris Blattman (or do I? I don’t know much about moral philosophy either…) for pointing me to the open access Yale University classes on political development (here and here). The moment I arrive somewhere with decent internet I’ll be downloading the lot.


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