Ethics, Economy & Entrepreneurship
This is an advanced social studies course combining the principles of economics, ethics, and entrepreneurship. Economy is our framework for cooperation. How do we harness self-interest so that it creates value for other people? How do we develop the skills that make those around us better off?
Ethics is the subject of how to live in the world so that it is better with us than without us. What kind of life do you want to live? What kind of society do you want to live in? These fundamental questions we will explore as we examine institutions in society.
The study of entrepreneurship revolves around the skills and aptitudes necessary to leverage initiative into successful outcomes, whether as a small business owner, an employee, or a volunteer. This course serves as a moral foundation for careers in law, economics, politics, journalism, and business.
- Study economics in the richer context of ethics and entrepreneurship.
- Build foundations for careers in law, economics, politics, education, journalism, & business.
- Become better equipped to make sound personal and professional choices.
- Learn what it takes to create and successfully run a business.
- Learn using the most current academic material on an innovative on-line platform.
- Experience a college-level course.
Website for course: https://commercialsociety.net/introduction
What is Commercial Society? [adapted from: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy https://iep.utm.edu/smith/]
Adam Smith is often identified as the father of modern capitalism. While accurate to some extent, this description is both overly simplistic and dangerously misleading. On the one hand, it is true that very few individual books have had as much impact as his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. His accounts of the division of labor and free trade, self-interest in exchange, the limits on government intervention, price, and the general structure of the market, all signify the moment when economics transitions to the “modern.”
On the other hand, The Wealth of Nations, as it is most often called, is not a book on economics. Its subject is “political economy,” a much more expansive mixture of philosophy, political science, history, economics, anthropology, and sociology. The role of the free market and the laissez-faire structures that support it are but two components of a larger theory of human interaction and social history.
Smith was not an economist; he was a philosopher. His first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, sought to describe the natural principles that govern morality and the ways in which human beings come to know them. How these two books fit together is both one of the most controversial subjects in Smith scholarship and the key to understanding his arguments about the market and human activity in general.
Historically, this process is made more difficult by the so-called “Adam Smith Problem,” a position put forth by small numbers of committed scholars since the late nineteenth century that Smith’s two books are incompatible. The argument suggests that Smith’s work on ethics, which supposedly assumed altruistic human motivation, contradicts his political economy, which allegedly assumed egoism. However, most contemporary Smith scholars reject this claim as well as the description of Smith’s account of human motivation it presupposes.
Smith never uses the term “capitalism;” it does not enter into widespread use until the late nineteenth century. Instead, he uses “commercial society,” a phrase that emphasizes his belief that the economic is only one component of the human condition. And while, for Smith, a nation’s economic “stage” helps define its social and political structures, he is also clear that the moral character of a people is the ultimate measure of their humanity.
To investigate Smith’s work, therefore, is to ask many of the great questions that we all struggle with today, including those that emphasize the relationship of morality and economics. Smith asks why individuals should be moral. He offers models for how people should treat themselves and others. He argues that scientific method can lead to moral discovery, and he presents a blueprint for a just society that concerns itself with its least well-off members, not just those with economic success.
Adam Smith’s philosophy bears little resemblance to the libertarian caricature put forth by proponents – or critics -- of laissez faire markets who describe humans solely as homo economicus ('economic man' views humans as self-interested agents who seek optimal, utility-maximizing outcomes). For Smith, the market is a mechanism of morality and social support.