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Neera K. Badhwar
University of Oklahoma
1.1 Are commercial societies unfriendly to friendship? Many critics of commercial societies, from both the left and the right, have thought so. They claim that the free-market system of property rights, freedom of contract, and other liberty rights – the “negative” right of individuals to peacefully pursue their own ends – is impersonal and dehumanizing, or even inherently divisive and adversarial. Yet (their complaint goes) the psychology and morality of markets and liberty rights pervade far too many relationships in a commercial society, eroding the bonds of personal and civic friendship. My main aim in this paper is to analyze and evaluate this claim. In this section I will give an overview of the critics’ complaints against various features of the free-market system, discuss the empirical data that might be thought to support their complaints, and show why they largely fail to do so. In Section II I will get to the heart of the matter: the nature of the market and of friendship. I will address the thesis that the modes of valuation proper to production are radically opposed to the modes of valuation proper to friendship, love, sexuality, and so on, arguing that the thesis rests on a misunderstanding of both markets and friendship. A proper understanding of the two reveals that, as voluntary, reciprocal relationships, market relationships and friendship share important moral and psychological properties, and are not the natural enemies, or even the odd bed-fellows, many critics take them to be. In Section III I will address the related thesis that market societies – societies based on the free-market system of property rights, freedom of contract, and other liberty rights - tend to commodify relationships and, thereby, weaken the bonds of personal and civic friendship. I will argue that free markets are the most powerful force for decommidifying or, more generally (since commodification is not the only way of objectifying people), deobjectifying people and relationships..
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