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  3. The Ethics of Capitalism

The Ethics of Capitalism (PHIL20044)

Undergraduate level 2Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelUndergraduate Level 2
Subject codePHIL20044
Semester 2
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

Like most people in today's world, you live in a capitalist system: You participate in the labour market, you exercise economic freedoms like property and contract, and you respect other peoples freedoms. Capitalist systems have proven good at producing goods and services. But do they give us justice? More specifically, are you paid a fair wage for the work that you do? Should you even have to work when many jobs are lousy, and could soon be done by machines? Should you be allowed to inherit wealth, if others do not? What taxes should you pay, and what should the money be spent on? We will approach these questions (and many others) by asking why philosophers thought that market society might have sound moral foundations in the first place, and how capitalist systems might be compared with alternatives like feudalism and socialism. And we'll ask whether these moral foundations support the way things have turned out in contemporary market societies, and what reforms might be necessary to take us close towards a more just system for all.

Intended learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this subject will:

  • Gain a familiarity with a variety of core texts in political philosophy relevant to the moral foundations of capitalism, and be able to both interpret and evaluate their main arguments.
  • Be able to understand a number of concepts that arise in moral arguments about capitalism, including exploitation, freedom, competition, ownership, and equality.
  • Learn how to defend, and not just coherently state, one’s own position with regard to controversial questions in political philosophy.
  • Gain an understanding of how topics in political philosophy overlap with the subject matter of other disciplines, especially economics.
  • Work individually, and in groups, to clarify problems, apply reasoning techniques to different issues, and to critically evaluate the results.

Last updated: 14 August 2019