Adam Smith’s Bourgeois Virtues in Competition

Business Ethics Quarterly 22 (2):319-350 (2012)
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Abstract

Whether or not capitalism is compatible with ethics is a long standing dispute. We take up an approach to virtue ethics inspired by Adam Smith and consider how market competition influences the virtues most associated with modern commercial society. Up to a point, competition nurtures and supports such virtues as prudence, temperance, civility, industriousness and honesty. But there are also various mechanisms by which competition can have deleterious effects on the institutions and incentives necessary for sustaining even these most commercially friendly of virtues. It is often supposed that if competitive markets are good, more competition must always be better. However, in the long run competition enhancing policies that neglect the nurturing and support of the bourgeois virtues may undermine the continued flourishing of modern commercial society.

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