Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 91, Issue 1, pp 1-19

First online:

Do Markets Crowd Out Virtues? An Aristotelian Framework

  • J. J. GraaflandAffiliated withFaculty of Economics and Business Administration and Faculty of Humanities, Tilburg University Email author 

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The debate on the influence of markets on virtues has focused on two opposite hypotheses: the doux commerce thesis and the self-destruction thesis. Whereas the doux commerce hypothesis assumes that capitalism polishes human manners, the self-destruction hypothesis holds that capitalism erodes the moral foundation of society. This paper will develop a more balanced position by using the virtue ethics developed by Aristotle, which distinguishes several virtues. The research will focus on the question for which virtues the doux commerce or self-destruction thesis is likely to hold. An extensive literature survey shows that market competition tends to stimulate diligence, crowd out temperance, generosity, and sociability, and stimulate envy. The effect on other virtues – i.e. courage, high-spiritedness, justice, and prudence – is ambiguous.


Aristotle capitalism competition doux commerce thesis free market market operation self-destruction thesis virtue ethics