Volume 44, Number 175,
October-December 2013
Challenging Conventional Economics:
An Ethical Development Paradigm
Nikos Astroulakis

The economic, social and political foundation of any development efforts, together with ethical reflections on societies and individuals, constitute the development ethics paradigm. We must first define development ethics and come to an understanding of the conceptual approach to this field and how ethical foundations are constructed. Material wealth is still an essential requirement of welfare, but it is not the only element. Specifically, development ethics seeks three objectives. First, development must meet the material, cultural and spiritual needs of society. Second, it must provide adequate support for social justice and the participation of the population in decision-making. Third, it must ensure a global ecological balance and environmental sustainability. All social constructs and institutions must contribute to achieve these three goals.

The following section introduces a conceptual design of social ethics that can be applied to development, based on moral philosophy and its more common sub-categories: meta-ethics, normative ethics and applied ethics (Kagan, 1998: 2). Reflecting on development in terms of social ethics, the first question, related to meta-ethics, that comes to mind is: What is the nature of development? In other words, how does development and its end state define a “good society” and a “good life”? The next step is to establish the normative basis of development and ask ourselves: How should societies and individuals behave to achieve development as it has been defined? This question refers to the changes desired to obtain a good society and adequate standard of living. Finally, we must reflect upon the following question: What type of economic, political and social issues in an ethical context can be applied to some of the fields specified in the development process? In this way, the fair basis of the development ethics paradigm simultaneously depends on the construction of sub-categories of moral philosophy and the ethical questions that emerge from each. Through the lens of an ethical discourse supported by moral philosophy, there is a specific typology that links questions of ethical development with their responses. The basic elements of this paradigm are provided in Table 1:

In terms of meta-ethics, the question to ask is: What is the object of study of development? Development ethics, in turn, provides a three-part response. First, growth is achieved when all people have a "good life." At the very least, people need access to the goods that meet their biological needs, and additionally, enough to provide energy to apply to a variety of aspects of life beyond first order needs. Welfare is understood as "being more" rather than "having more." A development model based mainly on economic growth has distorted how welfare is perceived: having more (material goods, wealth etc.) results in being more (successful, attractive, valuable) (Fromm, 2005). In contrast to this perspective, development ethics proposes welfare in all aspects of human life, which this field of study refers to as "human ascent.” Second, it proposes international justice in the form of a non-elite nation or people participating in social planning and its outcomes. The element of power in nations and societies is key to this discussion. Third, development ethics clearly supports the sustainability of natural resources, supported by both an ethical and technical component. Technological advances provide the means to achieve sustainability, and the choice to achieve sustainable development is therefore a matter of social ethics.


In this analysis, development ethics has been integrated into the economic tradition with social plurality. The idea of approaching development from a social economics perspective using ethical knowledge stems from the fact that the nature of economic and social development has value-ethics dimensions. It is very important to distinguish between social and individual ethics for any effective debate on ethics.2 Individual ethics offers a self-interested perspective of ethical values, mainly supported by mainstream economic theories, which maintain that a society is the sum of individual preferences. On the other hand, social ethics takes into account the person and considers society as an interactive total, which means something more than just the sum of its individuals. Development is not an abstract idea. As such, it must be analyzed within a historical and social context. Goulet (1975 [1971]: viii), founder of development ethics, wrote that "technological modernization, economic advances and social transformation never occur in a historical vacuum." Development ethics studies delve into this theory to conclude that development cannot exist inside of an ideological or ethical vacuum. Differences in the political, social and economic structures of societies determine the differences in their development ethics. Varied systems of development ethics lead to varied political, social and economic objectives, as well as the policies applied and the outcomes achieved. Development is also understood as both an end state and a series of actions. Is there even an end state? Yes, there is, if we view the overlap of ethics and economics as the means and the end to any development efforts.

Given the above premise, this study has demonstrated a methodological framework for development ethics in the context of social economics. The aim of the development ethics paradigm is to identify the ethical basis of development; the paradigm also works in conjunction with social economics to find the political, social and economic basis of any society, and reflect valuable ethical alternatives. The development ethics paradigm is a mirror for the economic, social and political foundation of every meta-ethical society and for the applied ethics used in development. This work therefore provides a novel perspective of the relationship between meta-ethics and normative matters, as well as ethics applied to development. In the context of social economics, the development ethics paradigm addresses the ethical challenges of social and economic development.

This paradigm contributes a precise methodological approach to analyze development in ethical terms. This work has shown that development ethics and its subject matter – development – can be interpreted in a precise manner within this social, economic and ethical methodology. There is a phrase that says: “A good theory leads to better solutions.” Similarly, this study argues that to achieve ethical development, a theory based on development ethics and social economics leads to better solutions.

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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