Bill Dunn
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Keynes's philosophy
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The chapter discusses Keynes’s philosophy. Probably more than any major economist since Marx, Keynes thought deeply about political and philosophical issues. He was a sophisticated thinker, close intellectually as well as personally to several leading philosophers of the age. He was particularly strongly influenced by Moore, and wrote one major work, the Treatise on Probability, which operates at the intersection of mathematics, logic and philosophy. There is controversy about the influence of this early work, and of Keynes’s philosophical thought in general, but there are important connections between his philosophy and his mature economics. It is argued that Keynes never develops an entirely coherent overall philosophy. This undermines grander claims for a ‘Keynesian economic system’ and for the generality of the General Theory. Keynes develops profound insights, around intuition, organic unity, time and uncertainty, which he does not always follow through, and makes philosophically provocative statements from whose implications he pulls back. An apparently individualist idealism and questions about the basis of knowledge might, if pushed to their (il)logical conclusions, appear radically incompatible with a genuinely critical political economy. More positively, however, these ambiguities enable the adoption or appropriation of Keynes’s insights in a way that a more rigorously internally consistent system might preclude. In particular, Keynes is right that individuals act in the face of real uncertainties and that this has important economic implications.

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