Cowton, Christopher J. and Downs, Yvonne (2015) Heated debates and cool analysis: thinking well about financial ethics. In: The Philosophy, politics and economics of finance in the 21st century: From hubris to disgrace. Economics as Social Theory . Routledge, London, UK, pp. 439-452. ISBN 978-0-415-85901-1

Not for the first time, the banks and other financial institutions have got themselves – and the rest of us – into a mess, this time on an unprecedented financial and geographical scale. It is no surprise that opinions about causes, consequences and cures abound with ethical issues, as well as technical and economic concerns, a focus of attention. It is to be hoped that useful lessons for the future will be learned.

In this chapter, however, we step back from a direct engagement with the stated ills of the financial system itself, whether actual or perceived, chronic or acute. Our starting point is that crisis in the financial system not only makes us stop and think; but it might also, particularly under conditions of moral panic, prevent us from thinking well. Our contention is that a further impediment to thinking well about financial crises is the lack of a substantial body of academic knowledge that might be termed ‘financial ethics’ – a corpus of well developed conceptual insights and appropriate empirical evidence. We identify some of the reasons for this situation and proffer some suggestions regarding what might be done to remedy it – including the development of knowledge that is as relevant to everyday practices during periods of normality as it is to providing perspectives on crisis. The chapter is structured as follows: the next section provides a perspective on debate during times of crisis; the middle section seeks to explain why academic financial ethics is not a significant constituent element of debate on the financial crisis post-2007; and the final two main sections explore ways in which an academic agenda for financial ethics might be constructed. In a curious way this chapter echoes some of the themes and especially the conclusion of David Bevan’s chapter in this work (chapter18) although the reasoning to the conclusion that finance ethics is an empty set follows a rather different Badiou-inspired path in chapter 18.

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