Friendship and commercial societies

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 7 (3):301-326 (2008)
Critics of commercial societies complain that the free-market system of property rights and freedom of contract tends to commodify relationships, thus eroding the bonds of personal and civic friendship. I argue that this thesis rests on a misunderstanding of both markets and friendship. As voluntary, reciprocal relationships, market relationships and friendship share important properties. Like all relations and activities that exercise important human capacities and play an important role in a meaningful life, market relations and activities are essentially structured and supported by ethical norms and, in turn, support these norms. The so-called norms of the market, such as instrumentality and fungibility, come in varying degrees and characterize not only market, but also nonmarket, relationships, including friendship. Furthermore, although market relationships are primarily instrumental, the individuals involved are not. The virtues of markets have their counterparts in friendship, as do their vices. For these and other reasons, market societies are not only not inimical to friendship, they create a more secure matrix for civic and personal friendship, as well as for other important values such as art, science, or philosophy, than any other developed form of society. Key Words: commercial societies • friendship • moral norms • virtues • vices.
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DOI 10.1177/1470594X08092105
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