Morals and the Free Society: 3. Morals That Create the Free Market

Here is the third chunk of the argument. To return to the second chunk, click here. To advance to the fourth chunk, click here. The complete essay is posted here.


Of course, this moral vision of pure egoistic utility maximization applies only within a perfectly free market. This means the free society’s members must abide by the rules whose observance brings the free market into being in the first place. The free market depends on the observance of clearly defined property rights, for example, as well as on the observance of rules against direct coercion. But observing these rules is not always utility maximizing. Notwithstanding the many cogent reasons that have been advanced to show why coercive and rights-violating behavior is often not in the agent’s utility-maximizing self-interest, it seems clear that there are still many situations in which such behavior is utility maximizing. Thus, if the free market is to exist, agents must abide by its rules at the expense of their own utility maximization. And these rules—against fraud, theft, and murder, for example—are clearly moral rules. So the free market requires obedience to a certain set of moral rules—namely, the moral rules that establish the free market—that are distinct and apparently not derivable from the morality of egoistic utility maximization.

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Morals and the Free Society: 2. Is the Perfectly Free Market a “Morally Free Zone”?

Here is the second chunk of the argument. To return to the first chunk, click here. To advance to the third chunk, click here. The complete essay is posted here.


A somewhat different and even stronger version of the claim that a free—or at least ideally free—society does not impose morals is given by David Gauthier in Morals by Agreement (1986, ch. 4). Gauthier goes further than the mere claim of toleration and argues that the free market, wherever it works with perfect efficiency, is a “morally free zone,” meaning that morality is neither needed nor even desirable! In such a social context, instrumental rationality is a sufficient guide to life, and it is the only proper guide: any other principle must only damage people’s lives. Thus, in an ideally free society, morals actually have no place!

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