Higher and lower virtues in commercial society
Motivation crowding out can lead to a reduction of â€˜higherâ€™ virtues, such as altruism or public spirit, in market contexts. This article discusses the role of virtue in the moral and economic theory of Adam Smith. It argues that because Smithâ€™s account of commercial society is based on â€˜lowerâ€™ virtue, â€˜higherâ€™ virtue has a precarious place in it; this phenomenon is structurally similar to motivation crowding out. The article analyzes and systematizes the ways in which Smith builds on â€˜contrivances of natureâ€™ in order to solve the problems of limited self-command and limited knowledge. As recent research has shown, a clear separation of different social spheres can help to reduce the risk of motivation crowding out and preserve a place for â€˜higher virtueâ€™ in commercial society. The conclusion reflects on the performative power of economics, arguing that the one-sided focus on models of â€˜economic manâ€™ should be embedded in a larger context.
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