When Being Virtuous Makes Sense: Bourgeois Ethics in the Golden Age vs. Embarrassment of the Bourgeoisie Today
Have you ever thought of virtues? Temperance, Courage, Justice, Hope, and Love, just to name a few. And, have you ever thought that they could have anything to do with economics? Economists have long ago separated the moral philosophy (ethics) and the science of choice (economics) from each other. They have supposed that economic transactions – producing goods, exchanging them in the market, and eventually consuming them – are entirely independent from the human condition. Deirdre McCloskey, a famous Chicago economist and historian, is now facing the issue in her forthcoming book: capitalism would turn into a disaster if we were to follow economists and put all our faith and hope on Prudence Alone. It can only be rescued if we are able to think capitalism in the light of “Bourgeois Virtues,” as she calls them. True, the name “bourgeoisie” has got a bad connotation in contemporary Holland. The situation is not so different in many other industrial societies. But it was the virtuous attitude of Dutch merchants in the 17th century that made Holland prosperous. Before reaching any conclusions we do better entering into the discussion with McCloskey and recover the language of virtues that will enable us to assess the moral conditions of modern economic societies.
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