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The Morality of Trade: An Intellectual History

Eric Daniels

Presented at: OCON 2010

Date: Jul 02, 2010

Throughout Western history philosophers have debated the morality of trade, laying the foundation for people’s evaluation of capitalism. Commerce in all its forms—from exchanges of goods in a marketplace to complex derivative contracts—is central to the moral status of capitalism. As Ayn Rand observed, the moral evaluation of commerce predated capitalism’s development—and has been used to damn it ever since.

This course surveys the intellectual history of trade, illustrating how a legacy of suspicion and hostility led capitalism’s pseudo-defenders to abdicate the moral case for capitalism. Capitalism’s pseudo-defenders embraced utilitarian arguments about efficient social outcomes to avoid confronting the moral condemnation of trade. Only Ayn Rand provided the proper answer in her rousing defense of trade and the trader principle as the essence of morality. By highlighting Ayn Rand’s unique defense, the course shows how the justification for trade is its morality, not merely its consequence.


Parts: 3

Handout: none


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