Spring 2015

Markets, Ethics, and Law

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-230

Moodle site: Course


Daniel A. Koltonski (Section 01)


In this course, we will examine the extent to which markets and market forces, in a broadly capitalist economy, shape not only our economic relations but also our social and political relations and even our self-conceptions.  The course will be divided into three sections:

(1) As a decentralized system of voluntary exchange, usually among strangers, a market is constituted by certain rules, ones that must be generally enforced among market participants. One set of rules governs the making of contracts between economic actors, and these rules are defined by law and interpreted and enforced by the legal system.  In this section, we will examine contract law—both the legal theory and relevant case law—in order to get a sense of the role laws (and the courts) play in shaping and enabling markets.

(2) Classical political economy was very concerned not only with the economic benefits of markets and the market economy but also with their social and political effects, both good and bad.  In this section, we will read two of the more important classical political economists—Adam Smith and Karl Marx—as well as two social theorists—Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thorsten Veblen—whose texts also address these issues.

(3) Are there moral limits to markets? Are there things that should not be for sale? Several philosophers have recently taken up these questions. They argue against allowing for markets in women’s sexual and reproductive labor, in children’s labor, and in human organs, and they argue against market-oriented solutions to other public and political problems. These arguments are not only worth exploring in themselves but also because they take up many of the themes and concerns of classical political economy.  At the end, we will consider the worries that Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno have raised about the Western market in mass cultural products (what they call "the culture industry").

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Koltonski.

If Overenrolled: Allow everyone to register. Preference will be given to first years and to those who attend the first class.


2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015