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Markets and Alienation

Date and Time: 
Thursday, October 24, 2019. 04:15 PM - 06:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Building 420, Room 286
Workshop: 
Ethics and Politics, Ancient and Modern
Meeting Description: 

All EPAM sessions are pre-read. We will begin with a brief summary of the paper and comments by a graduate student, followed by a response from Barry Maguire. Afterward, the floor will be opened for questions.

Abstract: Markets are alienating if they problematically inhibit positive engagements. I focus on efficient market behavior, of the kind envisaged by ‘invisible hand’-style microeconomics. I argue that such behaviour is exclusionary and fetishistic. As exclusionary, one cannot care directly about a range of values. As fetishistic, one is committed to an end that is not valuable. The conjunction entails that efficient market behavior is incompatible with caring directly about the individuals one interacts with in market contexts. However, it doesn’t follow that efficient market behavior is problematic. One might be justified in committing to efficiency by a rule consequentialist argument to the effect that everyone’s being so committed would serve the common good. If one has this commitment for this reason, one’s behavior in market contexts might even manifest a kind of care; a system of such participants might realise the values of equal concern and respect. But I argue that the inhibition of direct care in this system is, indeed, still problematic. Such a system would have an opportunity cost in terms of higher-order values, such as meaningfulness, authenticity, and solidarity. This is so even if markets are heavily restricted. It follows that any economic system relying on efficient markets – laissez faire, welfare state capitalism, liberal egalitarian, or market socialist – is alienating. One implication is that the 'economic is personal' - more so, even, than the political, and even less susceptible to an autonomous ethics.

Barry Maguire is an assistant professor in the Philosophy Department at Stanford University. He previously taught politics, philosophy and economics at UNC Chapel Hill, and before that held a Bersoff Faculty Fellowship in the philosophy department at NYU. He received his PhD in philosophy from Princeton University, where he was advised by Gideon Rosen. He works on a range of related issues in normative ethics, metaethics, epistemology and political philosophy.

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