The Market and Morality: A Clash of Two Value Systems: A Challenge for Contemporary Humanists
The modern humanist notion of person traces its origin to the progressive thinkers of the ancient Greek enlightenment and to the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. We can find our notion of the person in their discussions of happiness and justice and of moral and intellectual excellence; and we can also discover what is required to assure the physical health and the cultivation of intellectual, spiritual, moral, and aesthetic sensibilities of persons. These ancient thinkers considered the purpose of the best polis to promote the excellence of its citizens. However, while modern humanists embrace the intension of their notion of person, as those of happiness, justice, and equality, they are not satisfied with the narrow extension of the notion of person -- neither Plato nor Aristotle subscribed to a notion of universal human rights and each included the practice of slavery in the best polis.
Christian thinkers, such as Boethius, St. Thomas, and I. Kant set about democratizing the notion of person to establish a foundational moral equality among all human beings. Then, in the early modern period secular and religious humanists began extending this democratization to establish political equality and human rights among all human beings. However, fully realizing the humanist notion of person is profoundly challenged by the practices of modern market economies whose principal interest is to maximize individual profit.
The grand economic hierarchy effectively translates into a grand moral hierarchy by converting a person's qualitative absolute value into a quantitative relative value, or price. Since the requirements for nourishing physical health and the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and aesthetic dimensions of a person are commodities purchased in the market place, and since the money necessary for this purchase is acquired through selling his/her labor, the degree of an individual's ability to nourish his/her whole person and family depends directly on the market-value of the socially necessary role he/she performs. And since, moreover, the drive to reduce the costs of production devolves to reducing the value of labor roles, so are the persons filling those roles devalued. Persons become viewed instrumentally either as markets or as a 'natural resource' in respect of their ability to work. Modern market practices challenge modern humanists to be true to their notion of the person. Dissolving the great disparities within the human community ought to be a principal concern for modern humanists.
George Boger (United States)
Professor of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)