The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce
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The prose style is arch and obscure, often relying on brief quotations from philosophers, economists and historians and then rebutting them. Without the future volumes, these challenging pages represent a highly idiosyncratic survey with no obvious focus. View Full Version of PW. McCloskey, Author. More By and About This Author.
Buy this book. Zeebra Books. Show other formats. Take any sort of willed behavior you wish to understand—brooding on a vote, for example, or birthing children, or buying lunch, or adopting the Bessemer process in the making of steel. Call it B. Brooding, buying, borrowing, birthing, bequeathing, bonding, boasting, blessing, bidding, bartering, bargaining, baptizing, banking, baking.
What the hard men from Machiavelli to Judge Posner are claiming is that you can explain B with Prudence Only, the P variables of price, pleasure, payment, pocketbook, purpose, planning, property, profit, prediction, punishment, prison, purchasing, power, practice, in a word, the Profane. Smith and Mill and Keynes and Hirschman and quite a few other economists have replied that, no, you have forgotten love and courage, justice and temperance, faith and hope, that is, social Solidarity, the S variable of speech, semiotics, society, sympathy, service, stewardship, sentiment, sharing, soul, salvation, spirit, symbols, stories, shame, in a word, the Sacred.source link
The Bourgeois Virtues
The two-level universe of the axial religions are these, the Profane and the Sacred. The two summarizing commandments, I have noted, refer to the two levels: 1 love God and 2 love your neighbor. But most behavior, B, is explained by both This is not an easy read, it urges you to think, to argue, to discuss.
The idea is to counter the assumption, common among academics, that the merchant, businessman and tradesman is without honor and virtue. It is, according to the author, the first of 4 volumes, although after the first I cannot imagine what is left to say in the next three. Much of her argument is against the project of Kant, endeavoring to put ethics on a foundation of pure reason, or against Bentham, basing ethics on utility.
She argues instead for the seven ancient virtues, prudence chief among the virtues for businessmen, and argues that capitalism institutes a respect for these virtues. Almost every chapter of the book addresses a different author, and seems to be a refutation their arguments, sometimes to the detriment of the flow of the argument overall.
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Members Reviews Popularity Average rating Mentions 5 , 3. And for a millennium and a half, the philosophers and theologians of Europe have scorned the marketplace.
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The bourgeois life, capitalism, Mencken's "booboisie" and David Brooks's "bobos"--All have been, and still are, framed as being responsible for everything from financial to moral poverty, world wars, and spiritual desuetude. Countering these centuries of assumptions and unexamined thinking is Deirdre McCloskey's The Bourgeois Virtues, a magnum opus that offers a radical view: capitalism is good for us.
McCloskey's sweeping, charming, and even humorous survey of ethical thought and economic realities--from Plato to Barbara Ehrenreich--overturns every assumption we have about being bourgeois. Can you be virtuous and bourgeois? Do markets improve ethics? Has capitalism made us better as well as richer? Yes, yes, and yes, argues McCloskey, who takes on centuries of capitalism's critics with her erudition and sheer scope of knowledge.
Applying a new tradition of "virtue ethics" to our lives in modern economies, she affirms American capitalism without ignoring its faults and celebrates the bourgeois lives we actually live, without supposing that they must be lives without ethical foundations.
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High Noon, Kant, Bill Murray, the modern novel, van Gogh, and of course economics and the economy all come into play in a book that can only be described as a monumental project and a life's work. The Bourgeois Virtues is nothing less than a dazzling reinterpretation of Western intellectual history, a dead-serious reply to the critics of capitalism--and a surprising page-turner.
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