Book This: Philosophies of Markets and Moral Law

It’s been a while since I sat in a university classroom reading dense theoretical texts. I am still churning through books, but there’s a much greater variety to them now. I worked my way through multiple novels in my major courses a week as an undergraduate as well as textbooks and theory driven essays. Grad school brought more educational theory papers, but I have not read many novels or complex theory-driven texts lately. My reading list in the past few months has been non-fiction of a lighter sort. Books on gardening, decorating, design, photography, sociology, marketing, and economics have largely trumped philosophy and fiction in my reading queue. I forgot how much more difficult it is to read philosophy than sociology.

This week I tried to make my way through two texts that discussed social issues from a more philosophical perspective. The first one, God in Action: How Faith in God Can Address the Challenges of the World  by Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., is an exploration of U.S. laws and the relationship that they have to action taken by the Catholic church in public service. When I picked it up, I thought it would either read similarly to Thrift Store Saints, a book of anecdotes about serving others from a heart driven by the love of God, or like a how-to guide for people of faith to serve in their communities. Needless to say, this was definitely a “skim” book and not one that I felt like reading closely. It’s too close to my holiday vacation for me to want to read a dense text that asks me to ponder deep theoretical questions about the intersection of faith and morally contentious legislature. There are other times where this might be an interesting read for me, but not now.

Debra Satz’ book Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets hit a similar note with me: a worthy read, but not a light one. Satz teaches ethics and philosophy at Stanford, and it shows in her writing. Fun as if is to pretend that I am back at Stanford taking philosophy classes as I did in 2006, the heavy theory does not feel as relevant to my life right now. I’m struggling to answer questions of my own about the morality of social practices, but at a much more basic level. I’m attempting to answer questions regarding why our society perpetuates a class system where advancement is nearly impossible, why immigrants are criminalized, and whose responsibility it is to care for the poor and needy. This book’s cover says:

Satz takes a critical look at those commodity exchanges that strike most of us as problematic. What considerations, she asks, ought to guide the debates about such markets? What is is about a market involving prostitution or the sale of kidneys that makes it morally objectionable? How is a market in weapons or pollution different than a market in soybeans of automobiles?

I guess this is what I get for ordering books through the library without flipping through them first. Essentially Satz argues for other means to govern markets beyond moral arguments and explores the reasons for moral arguments to intrude on specific items of exchange and not others.  More than enlighten me, reading this book reminds me why I chose not to minor in philosophy as I had originally intended: there’s too much talking around an issue and not enough information that can be used to implement positive changes in unjust practices. I dropped my ambitions of the minor after my first ethics course at UCI. Too many questions, too many headaches, too many theories without tangible solutions.

However, if you’re into theory, by all means read these books. If you can find any takeaways that you think will help me answer my own moral/social questions, I’d love to hear the feedback.

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