J.M. Bernstein, “Hegel on Wall St.”


An interesting column by J.M Bernstein from the NY Times:

The discussion of market rationality occurs in a section of the “Phenomenology” called “Virtue and the way of the world.”  Believing in the natural goodness of man, the virtuous self strives after moral self-perfection in opposition to the wicked self-interested practices of the marketplace, the so-called “way of the world.”  Most of this section is dedicated to demonstrating how hollow and absurd is the idea of a “knight of virtue” — a fuzzy, liberal Don Quixote tramping around a modern world in which the free market is the central institution.  Against the virtuous self’s “pompous talk about what is best for humanity and about the oppression of humanity, this incessant chatting about the sacrifice of the good,” the “way of the world” is easily victorious.  However, what Hegel’s probing account means to show is that the defender of holier-than-thou virtue and the self-interested Wall Street banker are making the same error from opposing points of view.  Each supposes he has a true understanding of what naturally moves individuals to action.  The knight of virtue thinks we are intrinsically good and that acting in the nasty, individualist, market world requires the sacrifice of natural goodness; the banker believes that only raw self-interest, the profit motive, ever leads to successful actions.  Both are wrong because, finally, it is not motives but actions that matter, and how those actions hang together to make a practical world.

Read the whole thing here

6 thoughts on “J.M. Bernstein, “Hegel on Wall St.”

  1. I like this quote best:
    “Arguments that market discipline, the discipline of self-interest, should allow Wall Street to remain self-regulating only reveal that Wall Street, as Hegel would say, “simply does not know what it is doing.”
    Try explaining that to business students.

  2. Public philosophy usually results in disaster if you look at the comments sections for THE STONE, but discourse amongst philosophers is maddening too.

    Those who go with Leiter want good philosophy by professsional standards in the NY Times. That may be a good thing in itself, but the public is just going to have a shitfit over thought experiments about turning all the animals in herbivores and how that would be consequentialistically awesome.

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