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Do Markets Crowd Out Virtues? An Aristotelian Framework

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

The author thanks Tim Wiegant for useful literature suggestions and one reviewer for useful comments on an earlier version of this article.

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Correspondence to J. J. Graafland.

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Graafland, J.J. Do Markets Crowd Out Virtues? An Aristotelian Framework. J Bus Ethics 91, 1–19 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-009-0072-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-009-0072-6

Keywords

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