13Iber. hist. econ. thought. 9(1) 2022: 13-23
Academic integrity at risk. Joan Robinson’s interpretation of Marxian Economics
and her ethic critique of orthodox Economic Theory
Baruc Jiménez Contreras1 2
Recibido: 04/11/2021 / Aceptado: 08/04/2022
Abstract. During the twentieth century, Joan Robinson introduced Marx’s political economy into academic discussions of
economic thought. This article argues that Robinson’s work generates a proposal for academic integrity in economic ideas
through an ethical vision of Marx’s discourse and an epistemic critique of orthodox economic theory. Robinson’s research
shows that economic theory has been characterized by hiding the interests of the bourgeoisie, consolidating an “unethical
behavior”. Following Macfarlane’s (2009) work on virtue theory, it is possible to identify in Robinson’s production virtues
that can enhance the academic integrity of economists.
Keywords: academic integrity; Joan Robinson; Post-Keynesian economics; Karl Marx; orthodox Economic Theory
[es] Integridad académica en riesgo. La interpretación de Joan Robinson de la economía
marxista y su crítica ética de la teoría económica ortodoxa
Resumen. Durante el siglo XX, Joan Robinson introdujo la economía política de Marx en las discusiones académicas del
pensamiento económico. Este artículo sostiene que el trabajo de Robinson genera una propuesta de integridad académica
en la economía a través de una visión ética del discurso de Marx y una crítica epistémica de la teoría económica ortodoxa.
La investigación de Robinson muestra que la teoría económica se ha caracterizado por ocultar los intereses de la burguesía,
consolidando un “comportamiento poco ético”. Siguiendo el trabajo de Macfarlane (2009) sobre la teoría de la virtud, es
posible identicar en la producción de Robinson virtudes que pueden mejorar la integridad académica de los economistas.
Términos clave: integridad académica; Joan Robinson; economía post-keynesiana; Karl Marx; teoría económica ortodoxa
[pt] Integridade acadêmica em risco. A interpretação de Joan Robinson da economia marxista
e sua crítica ética da teoria econômica ortodoxa
Resumo. Durante o século 20, Joan Robinson introduziu a economia política de Marx nas discussões acadêmicas do
pensamento econômico. Este artigo argumenta que a obra de Robinson gera uma proposta de integridade acadêmica
em economia por meio de uma visão ética do discurso de Marx e uma crítica epistêmica da teoria econômica ortodoxa.
A pesquisa de Robinson mostra que a teoria econômica tem se caracterizado por esconder os interesses da burguesia,
consolidando o “comportamento antiético”. Seguindo o trabalho de Macfarlane (2009) sobre a teoria da virtude, é possível
identicar virtudes na produção de Robinson que podem melhorar a integridade acadêmica dos economistas.
Palavras-chave: integridade acadêmica; Joan Robinson; economia pós-keynesiana; Karl Marx; teoria econômica ortodoxa
JEL classication: B10; B14.
Summary. 1. Introduction 2. Marx and academic integrity in economic ideas 3. Joan Robinson and virtues 4. Conclusions.
Cómo citar: Jiménez Contreras, B. (2022). Academic integrity at risk. Joan Robinson’s interpretation of Marxian Econom-
ics and her ethic critique of orthodox Economic Theory, en Iberian Journal of the History of Economic Thought 9(1), 13-23.
1 This article was written as part of the Complutense University of Madrid and the Banco Santander Foundation’s predoctoral scholarship program.
Faculty of Economics and Business,
Department of Applied Economics, Structure and History,
Complutense University of Madrid
Iberian Journal of the History of Economic Thought
14 Jiménez Contreras, B. Iber. hist. econ. thought. 9(1) 2022: 13-23
Academic integrity relates to a set of values that re-
searchers must follow to ensure their results, which are
connected necessarily with ethics. It can evoke “strong
emotions in teachers, researchers, and students… be-
cause it is usually associated with negative behaviors”
(Bretag, 2018). Generally, when issues related to ac-
ademic integrity are discussed, they tend to be linked
with “malpractices” such as “cheating, plagiarism, dis-
honesty” and “fraud” (Bretag, 2018). However, Tracey
Bretag (2018) indicates that a more productive approach
to academic integrity focuses on “promoting the positive
values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibili-
ty, and courage as the intrinsically motivated drivers for
ethical academic practice” (Bretag, 2018).
In a practical context, it has been shown that the ex-
istence of codes “have a positive impact on academic
integrity”, especially in students who come to perceive
the “honor code as an integral part of a culture of integ-
rity” (McCabe et al., 1999, 212, 230). However, in an
ethical sense, it is possible to identify a reection and
the formation of a culture of academic integrity, which
goes beyond the honor codes. It has been determined
that it is necessary to assume a critical position on the
scope of research activity, which should be manifested
in the exercise of a set of “virtues,” in the Aristotelian
meaning, understood as “personal qualities we ought to
possess” (Macfarlane, 2009, 1).
Macfarlane (2009) encourages intellectuals to ques-
tion their research values and develop positive qualities
expressed in the unfolding of virtues to be a good re-
searcher. Macfarlane’s approach delves into the individ-
ual reection that each researcher should make when
moving towards a particular subject area. It assumes
that academic integrity encompasses a broader spectrum
than merely following deontological codes.
During the eighteenth century, virtue theory was cen-
tral to the emergence of economic thought. Mandeville’s
development of the notion of virtue inuenced the de-
bates that led to the formation of economic ideas, prin-
cipally those arising from Mandeville’s work (
1998) The Fable of the Bees: Or Private Vices, Public
Douglass (2020, 5) describes that “Mandeville’s
theory rests on a sharp distinction between the idea that
we have of real virtue and the widespread practice of
counterfeited virtue”3. Counterfeited virtue “can only
be judged counterfeit if it falls short of some widely
endorsed idea of real virtue” (Douglass, 2020, 5). For
Mandeville, we could not “claim that we give the name
of virtue to every performance”. On the contrary –“to
the impulse of nature”–, we need “the benets of oth-
ers out of a desire for praise and an aversion to shame”
(Douglass, 2020, 5).
3 Following Mandeville’s ideas, Douglass (2020, 5) explains that hu-
man beings “only ever practice ‘counterfeited’ virtue and not ‘real’
virtue”. ‘Real’ virtue consists of ‘actions, as proceed[ing] from a vic-
tory over the passions’ and ‘counterfeited virtue’ are “those that are
only the result of a conquest which one passion obtains over another”
(Douglass, 2020, 5).
Douglass also (2020, 5) explains that, for Man-
deville, if we want to live in society, it is necessary to
“have an idea of virtue that goes beyond” doing ben-
ecial acts for egocentric motives. However, virtue is
usually confused with selsh actions. For Mandeville,
virtue exceeds what is “humanly possible” or depends
on a distorted picture of human nature (Douglass, 2020,
5). Thus, humans have been exalted above animals to
achieve a “standard” suitable for society (Douglass,
2020, 5). Mandeville’s idea of human nature is not based
on seeking the benet of others, even if such acts spo-
radically occur (Douglass, 2020, 6). Nevertheless, we
still maintain “moral standards” in which an action is
not virtuous if it is selshly motivated (Douglass, 2020,
Mandeville’s ideas were a “challenge” to the Scottish
Enlightenment (Trincado, 2019, 4). Trincado (2019, 4)
explains that Hutcheson, Hume, and Smith faced “Man-
deville’s provocative cynicism” because they “needed
to discern if sociability, virtue, and justice are natural”.
Smith gave an essential role to virtues in his theoretical
approach. In 1790, after the publication of The Wealth
of Nations, he decided to add a section on virtues to the
sixth edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Bloss-
er, 2016, 166). Blosser (2016, 166) explains that Smith’s
approach to the political economy had led him to worry
about “the power of commercial life to corrupt human-
ity of workers and the wealthy alike”. The increase in
goods, commercial life, and individual liberties required
a moral structure to reduce the corruption of the eco-
nomic system (Blosser, 2016, 166).
Adam Smith denes “virtue” as “excellence, some-
thing uncommonly great and beautiful, which rises far
above what is vulgar and ordinary” (TMS, I.i.6)4. Bloss-
er’s (2016, 166) studies of Adam Smith show that “vir-
tue is embedded in a […] complex moral psychology
that relies on how people use their imaginations to de-
velop sympathy and the impartial spectator, which in-
form moral judgments virtues and laws” (Blosser, 2016,
Smith’s analysis of virtues shows that “commercial
life is not built on the [...] self-interest to generate wealth
[...] but rather, it is built on sympathy with others to alle-
viate the suffering of the poor” (Blosser, 2016, 176)5.
Thus, Smith “uses the virtues to create a moral theory
education for becoming responsible, and he shows how
responsibility ethics might apply to economics” (Blos-
ser, 2016, 164).
Studies that disassociated Smith from Utilitaria-
nism (Haakonssen, 1981; Vivenza, 2001) have helped
to recover Smith’s “conscious struggle” against Hume’s
theory of utility (Trincado, 2003, 43). These appraisals
have shown that for Smith, the conception of the hu-
man being as an “anxious” being who continually acts
4 Smith’s vision of virtues was in line with “ancient virtues” (like Ar-
istotle’s virtue notion) rather than “enlightened” approaches to virtue
(Blosser, 2016, 166).
5 Blosser (2016, 168) demonstrates that for Smith, “we are morally
compelled to become better sympathizers”. The human being’s ob-
jective “is not to ignore or eradicate the otherness of the other but to
engage in a dialogue that evokes responsibility for one-self and the
other” (Blosser, 2016, 168).
15Jiménez Contreras, B. Iber. hist. econ. thought. 9(1) 2022: 13-23
“individually in anticipation of future pleasures” reveals
an excess of abstraction on the part of Utilitarianism,
which results in the “corruption” of the “understanding
of things” (Trincado, 2003, 56). In Smith’s work, scien-
tic systems are conceived as a combination of “reason”
and “experience” (Trincado, 2004, 171). These “are in-
ventions of the imagination to connect otherwise sepa-
rate natural phenomena, which are expressed as if there
were chains between them. The reality underlies, but the
chains are the unreal effect of the system” (Trincado,
In Smith’s point of view, Utilitarianism in science is
detrimental because the system appears to be reduced to
principles alien to science itself (Trincado, 2004, 174).
Therefore, the reassessments of Smith’s work that dee-
pen his critique of Utilitarianism have converged with
the positions of economic thought that criticize the sim-
plication of the human being and reality in neoclassical
Through Smith’s reinterpretations that highlight the
need to build a solid relationship between ethics and
economics, some economists have examined the re-
sponsibility of their ideas and their inuence on society,
as well as the principles and interests underpinning dif-
ferent economic traditions. This analysis has gained im-
portance with the publication On Ethics and Economics
by Amartya Sen (1987), delving into economists’ ethi-
cal conduct. Sen (1987) critiques mainstream economic
theory for its distance from ethics. In addition, Martha
Nussbaum’s (2001, 13) studies inspired by “the capabil-
ities approach in the Marxian/Aristotelian idea of truly
human functioning” have been relevant in proposing al-
ternatives to the precept of utility maximization.
In economic history, the analysis of interests and
their binding relationship to economic thought became
important with Albert Hirschman’s (1977) The Passions
and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism
before Its Triumph. Hirschman (1977) shows that the
rise of capitalism changed social morality. Medieval
vices such as “prot” or “usury” were transformed into
virtues under the capitalist system.
These authors’ intellectual precedent in common is
Joan Robinson’s work. Robinson’s research was charac-
terized by an in-depth critique of the contemporary eco-
nomic theory’s principles. From her earliest writings,
Robinson put forward alternatives to the classical pos-
tulates of mainstream economics. Her school of thought
was mainly inuenced by her mentor John Maynard
Keynes. However, in the Circus study group at Cam-
bridge University, the incursion of various authors, such
as Michal Kalecki, Piero Sraffa, and Maurice Dobb, led
to Robinson’s broadening theoretical horizon beyond
the limits established by mainstream economics.
After the General Theory ( 2018) was pub-
lished, the Circus members became concerned about the
Keynesian theory’s general equilibrium interpretation.
Historically, the economists in the Circus had witnessed
mainstream economic theory’s inability to explain cap-
italist reality. Against this background, Robinson began
examining economic theory and proposing theoreti-
cal alternatives inspired by Marx, Dobb, Kalecki, and
Sraffa. In 1947, Joan Robinson published An Essay on
Marxian Economics6, in which she recovered Marx’s ap-
proaches in the academic world and compared the eco-
nomic theory’s epistemic basis with Marxist economics.
For Joan Robinson, a key element in Marx’s ap-
proaches is the transparency that he expresses in his
discourse because he reveals the objectives and inter-
ests that he is pursuing in his theory. Robinson’s reap-
praisal allows us to consider various problems related
to economists’ ethical and epistemic procedures. This
article seeks to answer the question: should economists
enhance the academic integrity of their theories?
In the following section, Robinson’s statements that
ethically and epistemically question orthodox economic
theory are presented, taking Marx’s work as a reference
to improve the academic integrity in economic thought.
Interests are dened as the intention in economists’
theoretical formulations to advantage a social class.
She demonstrates that there is no “value neutrality”
in economic ideas. Therefore, economists must reveal
that their theoretical elaborations are linked to a social
class’s economic benet. In the case of neoclassical eco-
nomics, Robinson details an effort to hide the mainte-
nance of the bourgeoisie’s statu quo under the idea of
market efciency. However, in Marxist economics, she
detects that the proletariat’s interests and social transfor-
mation are explicitly manifested. In addition, this part
describes that Robinson’s study constitutes a framework
for economists to reect on their theories’ ethical and
In the second section, Robinson’s ideas are extrapo-
lated to the approach developed by Macfarlane (2009)
on virtue theory in the research cycle. It proposes an
analysis that identies vices and virtues in Joan Rob-
insons’ study, emphasizing the necessity for econom-
ic thought to improve its theories’ academic integrity
through developing “virtues”.
2. Marx and academic integrity in economic ideas
Robinson’s work highlights the secondary role that
Marx’s research had played in economics. Marxism had
been characterized by its labor movement’s connection
at the beginning of the twentieth century. Its production
was mainly linked with the Second International de-
bates. The dominant Marxist approach during this peri-
od had been consolidated through the work of Bernstein
However, some notable contributions to economic
thought came from Marxism. In 1910, Hilferding pub-
lished Finance Capital which, together with Lenin’s
(1916) work, constituted a theory of imperialism (Gaido
& Quiroga, 2021, 63). In 1913, Rosa Luxemburg’s Die
Akkumulation des Kapitals was published; this work
attracted Joan Robinson’s attention, who wrote the in-
troduction in 1951 in its English translation. Maurice
Dobb (1929), a close member of the Circus, criticized
6 In this book, Joan Robinson analyzed Marx’s ( 1992a, 
1992b) political economy based on a critical review of Capital
(mainly in volumes I and III).
16 Jiménez Contreras, B. Iber. hist. econ. thought. 9(1) 2022: 13-23
orthodox economic theory and its notion of equilibrium.
Nevertheless, his primary line of research was linked to
a Marxist analysis of economics and history.
Marxism had not proposed a critique of mainstream
economic theory’s ethical and epistemic foundations.
Robinson set about the task of reecting on Marxist eco-
nomics and presenting a review of orthodox economic
theory. Her analysis is pioneering in questioning con-
ventional economic theory from a critical position that
opposes its prevalence as a viable social reality appre-
ciation. This criticism was made explicit in An Essay
on Marxian Economics, in which Robinson contrasts
economic theory with Marxian economics epistemically
and at the same time generates an ethical background to
improve academic integrity in economic thought, which
continues to be explored throughout her work. Some-
times, it is implicit in her critique of orthodox economic
theory; at other times, it appears as a central part of her
theoretical development, as in her book Economic Phi-
Firstly, Robinson argues that orthodox economists
have assumed capitalism as an eternal and natural order
(Robinson,  1982, 1). The economics theory laws
are a set of truths always applicable, regardless of the
space or time. In this sense, the capitalist system has al-
ways existed, negating any other form of production and
consumption in human history. For Robinson (
1982, ix), “it is a great merit of Marx’s method that it
lends itself to historical interpretation”7.
Neoclassical ahistoricity impacts economists’ per-
ception of society; human history is presented as a reali-
ty that adapts to market laws. Robinson especially high-
lights the invalidity of economic theory for analyzing
contemporary capitalism. Robinson’s later works show
that history takes a principal place when it is accepted
that “the uncertainty of expectations… guide economic
behavior” (Robinson, 1974, 202).
Marxian economics has a historical underpinning. For
that reason, Robinson (1974, 202) insists that post-Keynes-
ian economists had to resort to it, overcoming many years
of theoretical domination by neoclassical economics. The
historical perception makes it possible to identify different
economic and social development phases in the capitalist
system. Capitalism does not have the same reproduction
conditions. For that reason, Robinson proposes a dynamic
and evolutionary analysis that responds to social reality’s
theorization. Unlike the neoclassical economists, Robinson
nds in Marx a theoretical source whose aim is to adapt to
historical facts and not for reality to adapt to his world’s
conception. Marx’s ideas directly impacted Robinson’s
( 2018) work, which can be seen in the historical
vision presented in her book Freedom and Necessity: An
Introduction to the Study of Society. In this publication, his-
torical modes of production are distinguished. They can be
characterized by the social relationships of production that
differ from capitalist society.
7 To contrast history’s approach and orthodox economic theoretical
procedure, Robinson (1962, 75) afrms that “in history, we learned
of the growth and decay of economic systems”, but “in theory” only,
there was one set of principles that governed life on Robinson Cru-
Secondly, Joan Robinson ( 1982, 1) (1962, 3)
argues that economic theory presents sociability in the
capitalist system in terms of “harmony of interests” or
as “an automatic reconciliation of conicting interests”.
The owner of the means of production and the worker
meet in the marketplace to pursue the same goal: utility
maximization. The relationship between them is accept-
ed as “eternal and natural” without delving into its his-
torical background ( 1982, 1). In other words, the
statu quo is taken for granted, and the development of
the economic theory tends to reproduce and preserve it.
Robinson ( 1982, 1) points out that the notion
of increasing social surplus could be linked to both or-
thodox theory and the Marxist political economy. It is
possible to sustain this argument in the Marxist-inspired
approaches elaborated by Michal Kalecki8. However,
Robinson observes that conventional economics main-
tains a different perspective from the Marxist regarding
changing the system. If we consider that neoclassical
economists’ proposals respond to eternal laws and a set
of harmonious interests that regulate society through the
market, the social transformation is inviable. Robinson
( 1982, 1) species that the orthodox economists’
interests can be described as “fear to lose by the change”.
In this way, Robinson links orthodox economists’ ap-
proach to the concrete bourgeoisie’s class interests.
Robinson disagrees with the passivity of orthodox
economics concerning social transformation. Her ideas
about economics as a mechanism of social change align
with the Marxian political economy, which urges the
subjects to end the conditions of capitalist subjugation,
taking advantage of the degree of development achieved
by the productive forces in capitalism (Robinson, 1967,
64). For Robinson (1967, 64), economists should ght
to overcome poverty and fulll human and social devel-
opment. Therefore, Robinson’s speech opposes preserv-
ing the statu quo and ethically grounds that economics
aims to achieve social welfare.
Thirdly, Robinson ( 1982, 1) shows that ortho-
dox economic theory must be associated with advoca-
cy of capitalism; orthodox economists identify with the
“reproduction” of the system and become their adher-
ents. This eulogy for capitalism is covered with an ap-
parent “scientic impartiality,” expressed in the formal
mathematics language in orthodox economics (Robin-
son, 1967, 122). Robinson ( 1982, 1-2) shows that
orthodox economists are “unconscious” because “their
preconceptions emerge rather in the problems which
they chose to study and the assumptions on which they
worked than in overt political doctrine”.
Robinson’s research reveals that orthodox econo-
mists maintain interests that coincide with preserving
the bourgeois statu quo. However, mainstream econom-
ic theory does not identify the bourgeoisie’s agenda in
its discourse; on the contrary, its arguments are present-
8 It has been possible to identify this tendency since 1933 in An Essay
on the Theory of the Business Cycle. Later, Kalecki’s (1935) work
was known in international academic journals like Econometrica.
This idea also could be found in other Kalecki’s works, such as The
Determinants of Distribution of the National Income (1938) and A
Theory of Prots (1942).
17Jiménez Contreras, B. Iber. hist. econ. thought. 9(1) 2022: 13-23
ed in terms of market “efciency”. The mathematical
formulation of its principles conceals its class character
in a language of apparent “scientic impartiality”9. Fol-
lowing Robinson’s analysis, this omission can be inter-
preted as a lack of academic integrity.
However, Joan Robinson nds a theoretical coher-
ence benchmark in Marx because he openly exposes
his political and economic interests using his method-
ological procedure. In this sense, Robinson’s argument
proves that it is vital to manifest class interests in econ-
omists’ production because they directly regard society.
Also, Robinson’s research demonstrates that the corre-
spondence between Marx’s economic interests and ob-
jectives makes his approach a “consistent standard” for
academic integrity in economic thought. In contrast, ne-
oclassical economics’ theoretical foundation dees aca-
demic integrity by pretending to be associated with an
apparently “unbiased” resource allocation mechanism
based on efciency parameters.
The economists who formed the Circus were chal-
lenged to develop studies that integrated the Keynesian
contributions with neoclassical equilibrium principles.
It was visible in the works of Champernowne (1936),
Harrod (1937), Meade (1937), Reddaway (1936), and
Hicks (1937) (King, 2009, 23). In the face of these facts,
Joan Robinson ( 1982) demonstrated theoretical
alternatives to mainstream ideas that reected a coher-
ent approach between interests and objectives – based
on the Marxian reference. In this manner, Robinson’s
work shows that hiding class interests behind formal
mathematical argumentation is an “unethical behavior”
in economic thought.
Additionally, Robinson’s critique reveals that ortho-
dox economists’ bourgeois interests have driven them
to endorse a theory that lacks real support. The pur-
suit of “eternal principles” in neoclassical economics
diverted attention “to the special historical features of
actual situations” (Robinson,  1982, 2). A mis-
match between theory and reality was created because
orthodox economists insisted on theorizing about “the
economics of a community of small equal proprietors
into the analysis of advanced capitalism” (Robinson,
 1982, 2).
Fourthly, Joan Robinson nds an inconsistency in
the “perfect competition” idea. Production theory holds
that many producers provide the market guided by the
“economic rationality” assumption (Robinson, 
1982, 2). In this way, “each market is supplied by a large
number of producers, acting individually, bound togeth-
er neither by open collusion nor by unconscious class
loyalty” (Robinson,  1982, 2). Consequently, the
individual producer can compete in any market. For
Robinson, this idea is unconnected with advanced capi-
talism, characterized by the development of monopolies
and class alliances. In 1933, with the publication of The
Economics of Imperfect Competition, Joan Robinson
conrmed that the economic theory approach to perfect
competition was inconsistent. She demonstrated that “it
9 This trend is reected in an “anodyne” appearance of the economic
models that try to prevent “moral doubts” from being raised (Robin-
son, 1967, 58).
is more proper to set out the analysis of monopoly, treat-
ing perfect competition as a special case” (Robinson
 1969, 307).
For Joan Robinson, Marxian economics has the ad-
vantage of not theorizing about a community of small
proprietors. Marx ( 1992a) identies the emer-
gence of monopoly through the thesis of concentration
and centralization of capital. He also expressed in his
theory the tendency towards capitalist alliances and the
importance of trade unions in the struggle for labor time
and wages (Marx,  1992a). Thus, Marxian theory
reects more clearly the capitalist reality and provides
the basis for its contemporary theorization.
Robinson demonstrated that economists had not
considered that their production has a moral obligation
to express social reality. They had been forced to make
reality resemble theory through their theoretical work,
legitimizing the capitalist system. Consequently, ortho-
dox economics does not show an ethical procedure in its
In the fth place, Robinson ( 1982, 2, 67)
nds a theoretical anachronism in the fact that “wag-
es” tend to “equal the marginal disutility of labor”. This
conception comes from the context in which the eco-
nomic system is conceived as a community of small pro-
prietors. In this society, a “farmer” can decide “whether
the extra product of another hour’s work will repay the
extra backache” (Robinson,  1982, 2). However,
the worker in developed capitalism does not enjoy the
same conditions as a landowner. The working class, de-
prived of the means of production, can only ask themself
“whether it is better to work or to starve” (Robinson,
 1982, 2, 67)
For Robinson, Marx’s approach best reveals the pro-
letarians’ condition in capitalism, who owns only their
labor power and must sell it on the labor market to sur-
vive. To assume that the worker is in the same conditions
as a small proprietor hides the deprived workers’ reality.
For orthodox economists, workers are small proprie-
tors who would have the possibility of working without
being hired. It is important to emphasize that the labor
force’s notion, as a means of production, leads to the
perception of unemployment as an external phenome-
non, equivalent to denying involuntary unemployment10
(Robinson,  1982, 6-7).
This conception is ethically questionable, especial-
ly given the historical experience of the capitalist cri-
sis of 1929. Robinson (1972, 3) maintains that before
1929 there was a wide acceptance among economists
of free-market policies, reduced state involvement in
the economy, and condence in economic equilibrium
as an optimal position in society. However, the unem-
ployment caused by the crisis of 1929 resulted in state
intervention as an inherent necessity of contemporary
capitalism to maintain desirable employment rates. This
historical fact was refuted with mathematical and for-
mal arguments by economic theory to completely ab-
sorb the Keynesian ideas into its equilibrium approach
10 Robinson (1947, 7) denes “the amount of involuntary unemploy-
ment” as “the amount of work which, in existing conditions, the
population is willing but unable to perform”.
18 Jiménez Contreras, B. Iber. hist. econ. thought. 9(1) 2022: 13-23
(Champernowne, 1936; Harrod, 1937; Reddaway, 1936;
Meade, 1937; Hicks, 1937).
Through Keynesian thought’s subsumption, ortho-
dox economic theory tried to eliminate a different the-
oretical perspective and blur the importance of social
phenomena such as unemployment and the capitalist
crisis. In this respect, Robinson’s approach encourages
a profound reection on the relationship between theory
and social reality. She highlighted that it is epistemically
questionable for economists to exclude social phenome-
na that directly concern their theorizing issues.
In the sixth place, Robinson opposes the econom-
ics teaching method, particularly the elaborate formal-
ization of economic theory in a complex mathematical
language. Robinson ( 1982, 2) states that “the
orthodox economists have been much preoccupied with
elegant elaboration... which distract the attention of
their pupils from the uncongenial realities of the modern
For Robinson, research in economics and teaching
were directly connected. She believed that economics
should have a dynamic character instead of seeking
eternal truths. She transferred this effort to her role as
an economics professor, being concerned about her stu-
dents’ contributions and interests, as reected in her re-
search papers (Emami, 1992).
Robinson (1962, 66) detected a tendency to distance
economics’ students from problems related to capitalist
social reality. This trend has been shown in the univer-
sity’s study plans specializing in applying mathematical
tools. The tendency has been identied as “the over-
use of mathematics in economics” (Quddus & Rashid,
1994). Economics students do not develop a critical pro-
le because they focus on understanding microeconom-
ics and macroeconomics formulations.
An outstanding example of educational reductionism
in economics was the 2011 protest of Professor Grego-
ry Mankiw’s students at Harvard. The undergraduates
complained about the biased view provided by the ne-
oclassical methodology. In An Open Letter to Professor
Mankiw11, they argued that his approach “perpetuates
problematic and inefcient systems of economic ine-
quality in our society today”. They also stressed the role
of Harvard graduates globally and the awful effects on
public policies established through the exclusive ortho-
dox economic theory study.
Robinson’s criticism is even more substantial today
because neoclassical economists have managed to con-
solidate a theoretical approach that has prevented many
generations of economists from drawing closer to social
reality. Orthodox theorists can be held responsible for
economic policies based on perfect competition, the free
market, and economic rationality by consolidating an
“unethical behavior” in the teaching of economics.
11 The letter was written as part of the “global Occupy movement”.
Also, the students joined “a Boston-wide march protesting the
corporatization of higher education”. The letter specied that they
were “walking out of” Mankiw’s class “to protest” for his “inad-
equate discussion of basic economic theory and to lend [their]
support to a movement that is changing American discourse on
In contrast to the elaborate mathematical theoriz-
ing of orthodox economics, Robinson ( 1982, 2)
nds that “Marx’s intellectual tools are […] cruder, but
his sense of reality is far stronger”. Robinson’s analy-
sis shows that it is preferable to develop a theoretical
approach with a foundation rather than ignoring history
and social context in economic thought.
Finally, Robinson’s study establishes a relationship
between the circus economists who theorize about eco-
nomic reality and Marxian economics. Marx’s historical
content leads to a proposition consistent with the history
of capitalism, its worldwide expansion, and the set of
laws and contradictions that manifest in social reality.
Robinson maintains that in the academic context, Marx
had been silenced. Consequently, the economists (of
the circus) who had needed to study the capitalist re-
ality had to do this based on the experience of a world
economic crisis without a contemporary intellectual ref-
erence. Robinson’s argument denounces the overpower-
ing feature of economic theory in the academic sphere,
which results in the inability to take accurate measures
in the face of the capitalist crisis and its ability to silence
Keynesian theory’s rapid absorption into neoclassical
theory and the silence promoted towards Marxist theo-
ry show the predominance of neoclassical economics in
academia. However, Joan Robinson’s analysis brings an
alternative reection source in economic thought. Bour-
geois class interests hidden in mathematical formaliza-
tions are exposed, and Marxist analysis tools, which had
been silenced, appear as mechanisms to better under-
stand capitalist social reality.
Robinson’s approach raises a milestone on academ-
ic integrity in economic thought, revealing which char-
acteristics should be good or desirable for research in
economics and which vices or defects could be avoided.
The following section presents an interpretation based
on Macfarlane’s (2009) academic integrity studies and
Joan Robinson’s conclusions presented in this article.
3. Joan Robinson and virtues
During the rst half of the twentieth century, exper-
imentation on vulnerable population groups led to the
development of a series of ontological codes and ethi-
cal rules to guarantee human dignity in science, such as
The Nuremberg Code ( 1991) and The Declara-
tion of Helsinki ( 1982) (Macfarlane, 2009, 12).
Ethical standards were still lacking, which prompted
the Belmont Report (1978) publication by the Nation-
al Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects in
Biomedical and Behavioral Research. Beauchamp and
Childress’ ( 2013) work, Principles of Biomedi-
cal Ethics, was released in the same year, establishing
“principlism” in medical ethics as a robust approach
through four principles: “respect for autonomy,” “non-
malecence,” “benecence,” and “justice”.12
12 The rst principle is “the respect for autonomy”. It means to “ac-
knowledge” the “patients and potential research subjects” “right
to hold views, to make choices, and to take actions based on their
19Jiménez Contreras, B. Iber. hist. econ. thought. 9(1) 2022: 13-23
Principlism is based on Kantian, Utilitarianism, and
Rawlsian grounds. Its practice has spread to the academ-
ic community and public policy formulation. The use
of Principlism has been controversial and insufcient.
Clouser (1990, 219) considers that the principles “lack
any systematic relationship to each other, and they of-
ten conict with each other”13. Callahan’s (2003, 291)
research shows that Principlism is “too narrow to do all
the necessary work of ethics, too individualistic to help
us answer questions about the appropriate needs of com-
munities, and too mechanical to encourage some neces-
sary analytical and personal skills”.
Macfarlane associates Principlism’s problems with
the moral foundations on which it has been built. The
issue with Kantian principles is that any action can be
morally justified if it is rational (Macfarlane, 2009,
16). Rawlsian grounds retain a Kantian basis, which
can be problematic because they maintain a reversi-
ble logic (Macfarlane, 2009, 16). The utilitarian view
has been developed by orthodox economists, founded
on methodological individualism. It can justify any
action if it causes utility maximization (Macfarlane,
Robinson’s critique, which preceded the growth of
Principlism in academic life, suggested delving into the
repercussions of economic ideas on society. She showed
that behind the assumption of utility maximization,
mainstream economics has bourgeoise class interests,
expressed in the reproduction and maintenance of the
statu quo through economics teaching and free-market
There is a binding connection between Joan Robin-
son’s critique of neoclassical economics and the Prin-
ciplism criticism for constraining academic integrity.
Firstly, the justication of utility maximization is a suf-
cient criterion to establish that the neoclassical system
presumes that its principles are efcient and benecial
to society. Secondly, economic thought was a pioneer in
assuming an adaptive capacity to justify any social situa-
tion morally. Joan Robinson (1962, 57) explains that the
perception of utility in neoclassical economics sought to
“raise prots to the same level of moral respectability as
wages”. Through this formulation, the capital property
is considered productive. Therefore, “the capitalist has
a right to his portion” (Robinson, 1962, 58), and social
inequality is justied.
values and beliefs” (Beauchamp and Childress,  2013, 106,
140). The second principle is “nonmalecence”, which “obligates”
researchers “to abstain from causing harm to others” (Beauchamp
and Childress,  2013, 150). This notion does not imply that
exists “a positive obligation […] to provide benets such as health
care and various forms of assistance” (Beauchamp and Childress,
 2013, 192-193). The third principle is “benecence”, which
involves patients’ and research subjects’ welfare. Beauchamp and
Childress ( 2013, 202) distinguish “positive benecence” and
“utility”; the rst one requires “agents to provide benets to others”,
and “utility” involves “that agents balance benets, risks, and costs
to produce the best overall results”. The fourth principle is “justice”,
which indicates that subjects in research should have fair and equal
treatment (Beauchamp and Childress,  2013, 250).
13 For example, “showing respect for patient autonomy may not always
lead to treatment in a patient’s best interests, and so could conict
with the principle of benecence” (Ozoliņš, 2015, 33).
Macfarlane’s main criticism shows that the cur-
rents theoretical problems are insufficient for aca-
demic integrity development. He suggests that re-
searchers delve into alternative ways of achieving
academic integrity, reaching into the concrete issues
the different research fields face, instead of legit-
imizing a (moral) procedure under intellectual as-
sumptions that justify and conceal it (Macfarlane,
2009, 32). Therefore, Macfarlane warns that the ac-
ademic community members should behave beyond
any code of conduct, delving into their consequences
to develop academic integrity. This objective takes
on greater importance in economic thought because,
as was shown in the previous section, neoclassical
economics consolidated an “unethical behavior,”
which must be overcome.
According to Macfarlane (2009, 32), academic integ-
rity responds to a practice that depends on the research-
er so that “no code of ethics can operate without being
interpreted” by the researcher “through their [...] value
system”. This perspective emphasizes that academic
integrity “depends on the integrity of the individual”.
Developing academic integrity has generally delved “on
bad behavior rather than what we mean by being a good
researcher” (Macfarlane, 2009, 32). Macfarlane (2009,
33) focuses on the characteristics that are considered
acceptable or desirable to be a “good researcher” by ex-
posing a virtue theory14.
Macfarlane’s work is characterized by associating
the research process with a “journey”. He identies six
stages and relates them to six virtues, understood as a
midpoint between the vices caused by decit or excess
of virtue15. The virtues and vices of each step are not
exclusive to it; they can appear at any time during the re-
14 Macfarlane (2009, 34) explains that the virtue theory was widely de-
veloped by philosophers such as Aristotle and Confucius. Although
it had been out of fashion for a long time, it has been recaptured by
Anscombe (1958) and MacIntyre (1981). Macfarlane (2009, 34), fol-
lowing Rachels (1999), explains that a virtue is a “trait of character,
manifested in habitual action, that is good for a person to have”.
Thus, “virtues represent median positions between extremes of be-
havior, otherwise known as vices”(Macfarlane, 2009, 34).
15 Macfarlane (2009, 42) refers to the rst stage as “framing” (ques-
tions, problems, hypotheses, issues, projects, proposals). He recog-
nizes “courage” as a virtue, “cowardice” as a vice caused by the de-
cit of this virtue, and “recklessness” as a vice produced by the excess
of it. The second phase is called “negotiating” (access, consent, per-
mission, time, support). At this stage, “respectfulness” is identied
as a virtue, “manipulability” as a vice for lack of “respectfulness”,
and “partiality” as a vice for excess of “respectfulness” (Macfarlane,
2009, 42). He denes the third stage as “generating” (data, materials,
ideas, inspiration) (Macfarlane, 2009, 42). His approach associates
“resoluteness” as a virtue, the vice for deciency of it is “laziness”,
and for excess of it “inexibility”. The fourth stage is known as “cre-
ating” (results, interpretations, models, concepts, theories, critiques,
designs, artifacts). Macfarlane (2009, 42) recognizes “sincerity” as a
virtue, “concealment” as a vice rising from a deciency of sincerity,
and “exaggeration” as a vice for an excess of it. The fth phase is
“disseminating” (through publication, exhibition, and performance).
At this phase, the virtue that researchers should develop is “humil-
ity”, like a vice of lack of humility is “boastfulness”, and the vice for
its excess is “timidity” (Macfarlane, 2009, 42). Finally, Macfarlane
(2009, 42) describes the sixth stage as “reecting” (on epistemologi-
cal and personal learning). The virtue that researchers must develop
is “reexivity”, the vice to be avoided due to lack of it is “dogma-
tism”, and due to the excess of it is “indecisiveness”.
20 Jiménez Contreras, B. Iber. hist. econ. thought. 9(1) 2022: 13-23
search cycle. Dening the development of virtue means
to act “with integrity” (Macfarlane, 2009, 5).
The theoretical process through Joan Robinson ex-
panded the ethical and epistemic grounds of economic
thought can be considered as a “journey” in which she
developed “virtues” and tried to overcome the theoret-
ical “vices” of neoclassical economists. This reection
on Robinson’s journey proposes a way to enhance aca-
demic integrity in economic thought.
Firstly, when Joan Robinson evaluated the research
effects of the Circus members, the neoclassical econ-
omists, and Marx, she raised problems concerning the
rst stage or “framing”, in which questions, challenges,
hypotheses, issues, projects, and proposals are present-
ed. In this stage, Robinson’s attitude reveals the virtue
of “courage” because her arguments criticize a domi-
nant theory. Her approach is pioneering in warning that
the economists’ interests are hidden behind an elabo-
rate mathematical formalization. Robinson’s critique
demonstrates that for academic integrity in economic
thought, it is necessary to go beyond utility and ana-
lyze the epistemic foundations of theories, their results,
and their effects on society. Also, Robinson’s virtue of
“courage” is manifested in her denunciation of econom-
ic thought for silencing the Marxian proposal. Robinson
(1973, 43) nds in Marx, a rigorous thinker who reects
a high degree of social reality and an ethical and epis-
temic coherence between interests and objectives in his
“Courage” is a constant virtue throughout Robin-
son’s academic career because she maintained a critical
attitude towards economic thought. This virtue was ex-
ternalized in her debates with orthodox economists and
Marxists. Robinson (1973, 45) criticized the dogmatic
approach to Marxian categories. She also condemned
Keynes’s belated response to the crisis16 and his theo-
ry’s subsequent absorption into neoclassical equilibrium
Secondly, in the orthodox economics approach, the
vice of “cowardice” can be identied. Macfarlane (2009,
58) characterizes “cowardice” as “being unwilling to
tackle big or important questions”. Robinson (1942,
2) stated that orthodox economists’ “preconceptions
emerge… in the problems… they chose to study and the
assumptions on which they worked”. Additionally, their
theorizing does not respond to social reality matters, but
logical-mathematical formalization, so problem-solving
has a limited eld of action. Their contributions to social
issues are limited to promoting the “free market” to get
“equilibrium”. In this sense, “cowardice” is a vice that
should be overwhelmed by orthodox economists.
Thirdly, for Macfarlane (2009), “respect” is one of the
virtues researchers must develop. He links “respect” with
experimentation on human beings and people’s treatment
in investigation projects. However, we can transfer “re-
16 Robinson (1972, 8) did not “regard the Keynesian revolution as a
great intellectual triumph. On the contrary, it was a tragedy because
it came so late”.
17 Robinson (1972, 3) argued that “after the war, Keynes became or-
thodox in his turn. Unfortunately, the Keynesian orthodoxy, as it be-
came established, left out the point”.
spect for others” to the theoretical eld. It is then possible
to wonder whether orthodox economics has developed a
respectful treatment of the subjects. The economic theory
had ignored the “others”, assuming that if individual in-
terest is sought, the collective welfare is achieved. Never-
theless, within the economics denition as a science that
aims to reach social welfare, we nd in Robinson the ne-
gation of it as a discipline that “selshly” seeks individual
utility maximization. Robinson (1962, 77) proposes that
the revolution initiated by Keynes and later promoted by
the Circus “returned the moral problem into economics
by destroying the neo-classical reconciliation of private
egoism and public service18”.
Amartya Sen’s (1977) research has shown that or-
thodox economists developed a reductionist ontologi-
cal approach to human beings. In Sen’s article “Ration-
al Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of
Economic Theory”, it is possible to presume that eco-
nomic theory models aspire to human beings behaving
under simplistic patterns of economic rationality. The
economic theory’s human being conceived as “a social
moron” is not respectful of actual human capabilities,
which are restricted to the pursuit of individual inter-
est through their “one all-purpose preference ordering”
(Sen, 1977, 336).
Macfarlane (2009, 66) explains that “respect” is re-
lated to researchers’ “sensitivity”. In Robinson’s anal-
ysis, it can be noted that Marxian thought contrasts
with economic theory in its “sensitivity” to issues that
neoclassical economists have ignored or have not cho-
sen to explore in-depth. One example –provided in the
previous section– is related to Marx’s perception of the
workers’ reality and the character of exploitation that
they suffer in the capitalist system. This situation is op-
posed to the assumptions of neoclassical models, which
accept that real wage is equivalent to marginal produc-
tivity; consequently, social inequality is justied. Robin-
son’s reection reveals that neoclassical theorizing lacks
“sensitivity” concerning the worker’s actual situation in
the capitalist system.
Fourthly, it should be noted that economic theory has
attempted to manipulate reality to suit its epistemic as-
pirations. “Manipulation” is a vice opposed to “respect-
ing” (Macfarlane, 2009, 69, 71), which in the case of
economic theory, hinders the development of academic
integrity in economic thought.
In the fth place, Macfarlane (2009, 74) explains that
the vice of “partiality” can occur in the research eld.
Researchers are not expected to be completely impar-
tial. Still, when there is an academic formalization that
validates the interests of a powerful group in society, the
vice of “partiality” is experienced. Through the previous
section’s evidence, it is possible to assert that orthodox
economists incur the vice of “partiality” because their
epistemic background is associated with the bourgeois
18 Robinson’s (1978, 62) perception of economics as a “moral” science
led to a necessary revaluation of economic thought. Robinson (1978,
62) points out that one of the central distortions of neoclassical eco-
nomics was Adam Smith’s gure, associating him with a selsh dis-
course on the free market.
21Jiménez Contreras, B. Iber. hist. econ. thought. 9(1) 2022: 13-23
The vice of “partiality” is opposed to researchers’ ca-
pacities such as creativity and the freedom to implement
theoretical alternatives in an investigation eld. In eco-
nomic thought, proposals that do not contain a mathe-
matical formalization have been relegated, such as those
based on historical, philosophical, and sociological ap-
proaches. It is worth emphasizing that, due to the prev-
alence of orthodox economics, theoretical lines such as
cliometrics adhered to the principles of economic theory
to analyze society historically. Cliometrics maintains
the essential epistemic principles of economic ration-
ality and satises the orthodox economic approach. It
contrasts with Robinson’s idea of history instead of the
equilibrium criteria, revealing the reductionist aim of
conventional economic theory.
In the sixth place, Macfarlane (2009, 79) describes
that “resoluteness” is a researcher’s virtue that must
cultivate to carry out the objectives that motivate their
studies. The virtue of “resoluteness” is characterized by
the “activity” of researchers, i.e., the set of actions they
carry out to achieve their objectives. Epistemically, it is
possible to ask whether economic thought has developed
the virtue of “resoluteness”. It “implies a determination
to unveil the truth, however conrming or disconrming
to one’s view of the world this may be” (Macfarlane,
2009, 90). “Resoluteness” requires actions, while eco-
nomic theory invites the researcher to maintain a passive
attitude; as such, economic policy objectives are limited
to promoting the free play of market forces. The main-
stream theory does not develop a transformative aspect
of society but contemplates and legitimizes powerful so-
cial groups’ interests.
In the seventh place, Macfarlane (2009, 92) consid-
ers that members of the academy are obliged to develop
“sincerity” in the history of research. Researchers must
ensure that their results “are authentic representations
of what” they have “found out” (Macfarlane, 2009, 91).
Macfarlane (2009, 92) stresses that academics have a
particular obligation to build this virtue because he con-
siders that historically they have been “public servants”
and therefore have been able to develop “academic free-
Macfarlane (2009, 92) maintains that “despite the
growing privatization and commercialization of the
modern university, many academics continue to work
for publicly funded institutions of higher education”.
For that reason, part of this “responsibility is to fulll
the expectation that they will act in the public interest by
pursuing and reporting the truth as far as they are able”
(Macfarlane, 2009, 92). Therefore, academia is com-
mitted to society because universities have historically
followed Wilhelm von Humboldt’s idea of the need to
maintain “academic freedom” (Macfarlane, 2009, 92).
This commitment is linked to the search for truth and the
development of academic integrity.
In this evaluation of academic integrity in economics,
it is necessary to ask: What has been the role of econom-
ic thought in its commitment to society and the search
for truth? It is reprehensible that orthodox economic
theory has established itself as the dominant current in
economics, despite not promoting the search for truth.
Economic theory’s lack of academic integrity prevents
the development of a commitment to society because it
restricts its eld of action to free-market forces.
Finally, Robinson’s analysis also demonstrated that
the search for truth does not characterize economic the-
ory, but it expects reality to adhere to its principles to
conrm its validity. It is contradictory that economists,
as public servants in the academic sphere, have promot-
ed a line of thought that supports the privatization of
the public university and the commercialization of its
interests, putting at risk academic freedom.
Joan Robinson’s research has shown that economists
have an ethical obligation to improve their academic in-
tegrity due to the mainstream economic theory having
consolidated an “unethical behavior” as an intrinsic part
of the study and analysis of economics. This behavior
has manifested in orthodox economists’ tendency to
hide their bourgeois class interests under an elaborated
mathematical formalization. It is also possible to recog-
nize it in the justication of the statu quo, which in neo-
classical economics appears as the effect of the free play
of market forces and its capacity to optimize resources.
Robinson’s results suggest that one way to improve
academic integrity in economics is to critique epistem-
ic and ethical foundations. For Robinson, economics
cannot be based on eternal principles that do not match
social reality. The importance of history in Joan Robin-
son’s critique and Marx’s discourse reveals that econo-
mists should focus on capturing reality. Therefore, their
models have a moral obligation to coincide with reality
and not the other way around. In this respect, the arti-
cle has argued that Joan Robinson developed the virtue
of “courage” by proposing a substantial transformation
in the dominant epistemic foundations of economic
thought. At the same time, Robinson showed that econ-
omists must develop this virtue to confront the predom-
inance of one theory over the others.
Robinson’s analysis of Marx’s economics brought
about a comprehensive evaluation of economic thought,
leading to the reconsideration of economics as a disci-
pline that studies the origin and distribution of wealth
rather than a selsh science of individual utility max-
imization. This classical perception of economics un-
derlines the responsibility of economists to the ideas
that their theories propose. Thus, in Robinson’s con-
ception, neoclassical economists’ statements cannot be
concealed under mathematics’ “value neutrality”. They
must recognize that their arguments belong to a dom-
inant social class whose objective is to reproduce the
economic system. These statements point out that Rob-
inson developed the virtue of “respect for others” be-
cause she reoriented economics to pursue social welfare.
Robinson’s approach to Marxian economics led to a
critique of capitalism eulogy, reected in the establish-
ment of economics as a discipline that pursues chang-
es and is not content with guaranteeing the statu quo.
Therefore, it is corroborated that Robinson developed
22 Jiménez Contreras, B. Iber. hist. econ. thought. 9(1) 2022: 13-23
the virtue of “resoluteness” in the epistemic eld be-
cause her statements are oriented toward a transforma-
tive role in economics.
Macfarlane (2009) stresses the importance of “sincer-
ity virtue” in academic integrity. Historically, researchers
have been public servants, so they have a duty toward
society. At the same time, their position gives them “ac-
ademic freedom”. However, the neoclassical economists’
promotion of free-market policies and privatization of
education is detrimental to “academic freedom” and re-
stricts the development of research activity to commercial
interests. It reveals that the mainstream economics’ neg-
ative results compromise the improvement of “academic
integrity” as it has historically manifested.
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