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Morality and aspiration in Bourgeois Dignity

Kevin Vallier

Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), 2012, vol. 41, issue 6, 776-782

Abstract: Deirdre McCloskey's book, Bourgeois Dignity, sets out to refute the most reputable explanations of what she calls the Great Fact—that over the last few centuries, the wealth of industrialized nations has increased by a factor of at least sixteen. She also presents a positive thesis, namely that the Great Fact occurred when Western societies began to ascribe dignity and liberty to the bourgeoisie by changing their rhetoric. I argue that McCloskey's positive thesis can benefit from an illuminating moral psychological distinction between what Peter Strawson has called “social morality” and “individual ideal” or what I shall refer to as moral rules and personal ideals or aspirations. McCloskey's positive thesis can be mapped onto these two categories and thus separated into two distinct theses: the Imperatival Thesis and the Aspirational Thesis. The former holds that societies that stopped blaming and ostracizing the bourgeoisie for their characteristic activities were the first to develop, whereas the latter holds that societies stopped ostracizing the bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie started innovating because they took on new aspirations and ideals. These twin theses help to explain how the ideas of dignity and rhetoric operate in Bourgeois Dignity. I also argue that the distinction connects McCloskey's positive thesis to a large field of empirical and theoretical work in evolutionary psychology and cognitive science.

Keywords: Social morality; Political economy; Economic history; Bourgeois dignity; Industrial revolution; Moral philosophy (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: O16 O31 O33 O34 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2012
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DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2012.04.015

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