v4 n7 Taylor on Brennan and Jaworski on Markets Without Limits

James.S.Taylor“What Limits Should Markets be Without?” by James Stacey Taylor

A COMMENTARY ON Jason Brennan and Peter M. Jaworski (2016), Markets Without Limits: Moral Virtues and Commercial Interests (New York: Routledge)

In Markets Without Limits Brennan and Jaworski defend the view that there are “no legitimate worries about what we buy, trade, and sell.” But rather than being a unified defense of this position Brennan and Jaworski unwittingly offer three distinct pro-commodification views—two of which are subject to counterexamples. This Commentary will clarify what should be the thesis of their volume and identify the conditions that any counter-example to this must meet.

To download the full PDF, click here: Taylor on Brennan and Jaworski

17 Comments on “v4 n7 Taylor on Brennan and Jaworski on Markets Without Limits”

  1. Julien Couvreur says:

    Selling the Nobel prize and other meritorious prizes for money would certainly be counter-productive (against the goals and principles of that organization, and vastly reduces the brand value for that organization), but what is immoral?
    At best you could say that it violates an informal and non-contractual public commitment by that organization.

    Saving drowning people for money is immoral? I suppose coast guards and lifeguards should be scolded immediately.

    You are correct that I can bind myself to do something for free (for example a warranty contract means that I will repair or replace a defective product). But that has no bearing on whether I morally may do the same activity (repairing products) for a fee.

    • My point was not that saving drowning people for money was immoral per se, but that if one had a moral obligation to do X then the performance of X would be owed to the person to whom one owed that obligation. I seems to me obvious that there’s nothing immoral about paying lifeguards, as we’re paying them not just to save people, but to be on hand to save people.

    • My point concerning the saving of a person for money was simply that if you had a moral obligation to save someone then you would owe the act of saving to her. If you made your saving her conditional on payment then you would be attempting to secure payment for something that was was already owed–and that would be immoral. There is nothing problematic about paying lifeguards, since we pay them to watch over people, and then save as necessary. Persons do not have any moral obligation to wait to see if others might need their aid, and so payment for this service is perfectly permissible.

  2. Dmitri Pisarstchik says:

    I am doubtful as to whether the first two theses are soundly rejected. Are there such things as purely altruistic and costly duties of assistance or beneficence? Surely, it would be a morally good thing that I save a drowning man for free, so to speak, but am I morally obligated to do it for free? In a somewhat Randian spirit: why ought I do anything that benefits another for free?

    If there are no moral obligations to do something for free, excluding those one may choose to impose on oneself, then there seem to be no cases in which something that can be done free-of-charge cannot be sold or bargained for.

    • I think that this response is correct. My point was only to note that if there was an obligation to do X free then it would be impermissible to make one’s performance of that action conditional on payment. And the class of such morally required acts might be empty–although I don’t think that it is!

  3. Douglas B. Rasmussen says:

    Brennan and Jaworski:

    The statement “There are some things which people are normally allowed
    to own or possess in some way, but which should not be for
    sale” is false (17).

    Is one’s integrity something that one possesses, and if so, is not it a common moral point to say that one should not sell it?

    • My immediate response (but I’ll put more thought into it to double-check) is to say that integrity is not the kind of thing that can be “owned” or “possessed” in the relevant sense of “owned” and “possessed” intended in the claim.

      I cannot sell integrity, since integrity is not a transferable good. I can, however, compromise my integrity by saying or doing something that runs counter to my moral convictions. But in that case the wrong of doing so makes no contact with money or markets. It would be as wrong for you to “gift” away your integrity, as it would be to sell away your integrity.

      • Douglas B. Rasmussen says:

        “It profit a man nothing to give up his soul [aka integrity] for the world.” The giving up of his soul could be a result of a desire for money or misplaced altruism or a quid pro quo that involves no money but something else, say power or promoting a cause. But it is wrong to make any such exchanges. Selling one’s integrity for money would be but one way to commit the wrong. But is would nonetheless seem something that one should not sell for money.

        Integrity one possesses in some way or other–it is found in one’s conduct, but of course the instances and examples vary.

      • I think Peter’s right here. I think that integrity is similar in this way to, say, voices. My voice (understood as a particular pitch, timbre, &c) is mine, but I cannot sell it, as I don’t possess or own it as a transferable good.

        • Douglas B. Rasmussen says:

          Not so sure integrity it is just like a voice. Much to this topic, but is not one’s integrity found in a loyalty in one’s conduct to those very values that make one who one is? When one’s conduct betrays those values in exchange for something else, then this exchange is morally objectionable. See also my below comments as well.

          • Douglas B. Rasmussen says:

            Also, the fact is wrong. Mel Blanc, the voice of bugs bunny, sold his voice all the time. Maybe the idea is “divestment.”

            • Good point, Doug! I stand corrected here.

            • Maybe Mel Blanc’s “sale” of his voice was a paid performance, rather than an actual sale, which does appear to require divestment?

              • Douglas B. Rasmussen says:

                Just a thought, and to continue the analogy: since one’s soul is not some ghost but is constituted by what one does, it seems to be possible to lose it bit by bit in performance of soul-betraying-activities. The divestment of one’s very character and the development of something alien is seldom accomplished all at once. Such a fate is not due to the stars (or markets) but it is due to one’s own choices. This most profound dimension of the moral life should not be ignored.

  4. Douglas B. Rasmussen says:

    Brennan and Jaworski:

    The statement “There are some things which people are normally allowed
    to own or possess in some way, but which should not be for
    sale” is false (17).

    I am trying to get clear on what I meant by “possess in some way” and “sale.” One’s integrity is found in one’s character and conduct, and it is normal to say that it is something one has or possesses. The common moral claim is that one should not exchange one’s integrity for something else–be it for love, money, power, prestige, a political cause, or whatever. Integrity-betraying-conduct is objectionable not because it is done for money, but because it is an exchange–simply put, because it is not something to be sold. If one wants to say that there is nothing additionally wrong with exchanging one’s integrity for money than what is wrong in exchanging it for anything else, then okay. (This may all that B&J want to claim.) But it still does not show that one cannot have a moral objection to exchanging one’s integrity for money.

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