The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce

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University of Chicago Press, 2010 M03 15 - 634 pages
For a century and a half, the artists and intellectuals of Europe have scorned the bourgeoisie. And for a millennium and a half, the philosophers and theologians of Europe have scorned the marketplace. The bourgeois life, capitalism, Mencken’s “booboisie” and David Brooks’s “bobos”—all have been, and still are, framed as being responsible for everything from financial to moral poverty, world wars, and spiritual desuetude. Countering these centuries of assumptions and unexamined thinking is Deirdre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues, a magnum opus that offers a radical view: capitalism is good for us.

McCloskey’s sweeping, charming, and even humorous survey of ethical thought and economic realities—from Plato to Barbara Ehrenreich—overturns every assumption we have about being bourgeois. Can you be virtuous and bourgeois? Do markets improve ethics? Has capitalism made us better as well as richer? Yes, yes, and yes, argues McCloskey, who takes on centuries of capitalism’s critics with her erudition and sheer scope of knowledge. Applying a new tradition of “virtue ethics” to our lives in modern economies, she affirms American capitalism without ignoring its faults and celebrates the bourgeois lives we actually live, without supposing that they must be lives without ethical foundations.

High Noon, Kant, Bill Murray, the modern novel, van Gogh, and of course economics and the economy all come into play in a book that can only be described as a monumental project and a life’s work. The Bourgeois Virtues is nothing less than a dazzling reinterpretation of Western intellectual history, a dead-serious reply to the critics of capitalism—and a surprising page-turner.

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User Review  - neurodrew - LibraryThing

This is a long and wordy book. The idea is to counter the assumption, common among academics, that the merchant, businessman and tradesman is without honor and virtue. It is, according to the author ... Read full review

The bourgeois virtues: ethics for an age of commerce

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

McCloskey (economics, history, English, & communication, Univ. of Illinois, Chicago;Crossing: A Memoir ) intends her new book as the first in a quartet defending the bourgeois class. She incorporates ... Read full review

Contents

A Brief for the Bourgeois Virtues
1
Appeal
55
Love
89
Faith and Hope
149
Prudence and Justice
251
Part V Systematizing the SevenVirtues
301
Part III The Bourgeois Uses of the Virtues
405
The unfinished case for the bourgeois virtues
509
Notes
515
Works Cited
557
Index
589
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Page 264 - If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number'} No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
Page 477 - There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.
Page 8 - If we were to prophesy that in the year 1930 a population of fifty millions, better fed, clad and lodged than the English of our time, will cover these islands, that Sussex and Huntingdonshire will be wealthier than the wealthiest parts of the...
Page 94 - To MY DEAR AND LOVING HUSBAND If ever two were one, then surely we. If ever man were loved by wife, then thee; If ever wife was happy in a man, Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
Page 120 - The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of ; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause, as the effect of the division of labour. The...
Page 192 - But in the midst of doubt, in the collapse of creeds, there is one thing I do not doubt, that no man who lives in the same world with most of us can doubt, and that is that the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has no notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use.
Page 160 - To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world — and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.
Page 164 - Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die, Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited; Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I Had willed and meted me the tears I shed. But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain, And why unblooms the best hope ever sown? — Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain, And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . . These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

About the author (2010)

Deirdre N. McCloskey is distinguished professor of economics, history, English, and communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Among her many books are Crossing: A Memoir and If You’re So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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