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Communitarianism and the Market: A Paradox


  • Irene van Staveren


Communitarian philosophers understand morality as emerging in communities through the interaction between agents in practices. At first sight, communitarianism seems to provide a suitable perspective for conceptualizing morality in economics, since the economy might be regarded as a sequence of such practices in communities of business, households, and trading. But several well-known communitarians, such as MacIntyre, Anderson, and Etzioni, are rather sceptical about the economy, and in particular markets, as a location of moral behaviour, which leaves us with a paradox: How can economists re-conceptualize the dominant theory of markets towards a more morally embedded theory of economic life, using ideas from communitarianism, when at the same time communitarians deny the market as a location of morality? This article will argue, first, that such a sceptical view relies on a false dichotomy between market and morality. The dichotomy is explained by the acceptance by three major communitarian philosophers of a narrow theory of economic behaviour: rational choice theory. Second, the paper shows how three key communitarian ideas may be usefully applied to the understanding of economic behaviour. Third, the work by another communitarian, Walzer, is referred to, in order to show how communitarian thought may be related to progressive economic thought in order to conceptualize the market as a morally embedded institution.

Suggested Citation

  • Irene van Staveren, 2009. "Communitarianism and the Market: A Paradox," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 67(1), pages 25-47.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:rsocec:v:67:y:2009:i:1:p:25-47
    DOI: 10.1080/00346760802431306

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    Cited by:

    1. Luigino Bruni & Robert Sugden, 2013. "Reclaiming Virtue Ethics for Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(4), pages 141-164, Fall.


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