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The price of the market: pursuit of self-interest as annihilation of self


  • Robert Urquhart



The paper criticizes the view that the market provides for the well-being of individuals by offering the widest field for the pursuit of self-interest. It argues, first, that this view is disastrously mistaken because it misunderstands what individuals are, but, second, that proponents of this view—notably Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations and the neoclassical economists—actually show the opposite of what they claim: that is, they show that pursuit of self-interest in the market is the annihilation of self. Thus, the proponents of the view show that it is untenable and at least point toward the terms necessary for a more adequate alternative. The paper then asks whether the market must be like this, first, through considering a line of thought on the possibility of a non-predatory market that runs from Aristotle, through the Italian Civil Happiness school, to modern socialist writers. Second, it offers an alternative view of the individual, according to which individuality is in part constituted through substantial relations with other individuals, a version of which can be found in Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and Lectures on Jurisprudence. On the basis of these two discussions, a market order that sustains rather than destroys individuals can be imagined. However, this order would have lost many central characteristics of the capitalist market order. Copyright Springer-Verlag 2012

Suggested Citation

  • Robert Urquhart, 2012. "The price of the market: pursuit of self-interest as annihilation of self," International Review of Economics, Springer;Happiness Economics and Interpersonal Relations (HEIRS), vol. 59(4), pages 431-457, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:inrvec:v:59:y:2012:i:4:p:431-457
    DOI: 10.1007/s12232-012-0159-8

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Davis,John B., 2010. "Individuals and Identity in Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9781107001923, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Robert Urquhart, 2016. "Accumulation as eternal recurrence: theology of the bad infinity," International Review of Economics, Springer;Happiness Economics and Interpersonal Relations (HEIRS), vol. 63(1), pages 7-30, March.

    More about this item


    Individuals; Well-being; Self-interest; Market; B00;

    JEL classification:

    • B00 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - General - - - History of Economic Thought, Methodology, and Heterodox Approaches


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