7 Ricardo on ethics and political economy

DOI: 10.4324/9781003162100-7

Moral impressions and the rational pursuit of happiness

Moral impressions

‘Moral impressions’ are the first source of moral obligation that reason confirms and to which religion adds further support. It would be a ‘libel upon human nature to say otherwise’ (Works 5, p. 327). Ricardo uttered these words in Parliament in 1823. It is a statement incompatible with both the Calvinist view of human nature as utterly depraved and the Benthamite view of moral judgement in terms of pleasure and pain.

There are traces left of Ricardo’s discussion of ethical topics, besides the correspondence and speeches, in the Commonplace Books. The latter are two notebooks of reading notes (Ricardo ...

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