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Markets rely on selfishness, or so we’re told. Economics models people as self-interested utility maximizers. Some argue commercial society oppresses women. Philosophers often see economic liberties and property rights as antagonistic or individualistic. Market society is seen as the realm of cold, calculating individuals. We propose to replace this story with a richer, more accurate one.

Our main question is to what extent markets are pro- or anti-social. Using diverse disciplinary and ideological approaches from economics, literature, and philosophy, we ask to what extent economic models organized around maximizing agents reflect reality; whether feminist conceptions of virtue are consistent with commerce; and whether justifications of economic rights reflect selfish or atomistic models of the person.

The project asks about the cultural, ethical, and social apparatus surrounding markets. A topic this complex cannot be adequately studied using a single disciplinary approach or ideology. What’s needed is a conversation using different methodologies and viewpoints. Our research, events, and teaching will bring together people from different disciplines and ideological backgrounds to openly investigate these questions. Our approach reintegrates the social sciences and humanities in the tradition of Adam Smith and others, yielding an analysis of commercial society that's descriptively more accurate and morally rich.

Our outputs will be: (I) high-level research, including faculty-student collaborations; (II) PPE-workshops for graduate students; (III) teaching-research seminars for advanced undergraduates; (IV) faculty symposia; and (V) collaborations with post-docs and visiting scholars. The project will produce constructive engagement with a major concern about markets: the extent to which markets are pro or anti-social in nature.