Buyer Beware: A Critique of Leading Virtue Ethics Defenses of Markets

Journal of Social Philosophy 51 (3):457-482 (2020)


Over the last few decades, there have been intense debates concerning the effects of markets on the morality of individuals’ behaviour. On the one hand, several authors argue that markets’ ongoing expansion tends to undermine individuals’ intentions for mutual benefit and virtuous character traits and actions. On the other hand, leading economists and philosophers characterize markets as a domain of intentional cooperation for mutual benefit that promotes many of the character traits and actions that traditional virtue ethics accounts classify as virtuous. In this paper, I join this debate and argue for three claims of general interest to philosophers, economists and policy makers. First, market transactions do not reliably promote individuals’ intentions for mutual benefit, and often select against such intentions. Second, the set of so-called market virtues lacks a substantial overlap with the set of character traits that traditional virtue ethics accounts classify as virtuous. And third, many seemingly virtuous actions observed in market contexts are merely actions in accordance with virtue rather than genuine actions from virtue. These three claims do not license opposition to markets, but challenge the main empirical and theoretical presuppositions of leading virtue ethics defences of markets.

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Citations of this work

Markets.Lisa Herzog - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2013.
Markets, Morals, and Virtues: Evidential and Conceptual Issues.Roberto Fumagalli - 2020 - Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics 13 (1).

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