A problem for consequentialist conceptions of virtue.

Adams again. This is a great thought.

As we’ve seen, Hume claims that a character trait is a virtue if it disposes someone to act in a way that is useful or agreeable to the individual or society more generally. So virtues must be beneficial, and it is enough that they are beneficial.

The problem Adams notes is that according to classical economics, capitalism is ordinarily taken to be predicated upon using private ‘vices’ and designing institutions in such a way that they contribute to collective well-being. We twist and reorientate bad motives and ensure they do good.

But if Hume is correct, this assumption that selfishness, competitiveness and so on are in themselves bad must be revised. Since individuals being predominantly concerned with their own material wellbeing does better to heighten social welfare than any other system yet devised, we should consider this sort of behaviour virtuous. The self-interested businessman is worthy of admiration and praise. In other words, Hume’s theory delivers him straight into bed with Ayn Rand.

Something, somewhere has gone wrong, right?


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