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Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce

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For a century and a half, the artists and intellectuals of Europe have scorned the bourgeoisie. And for a millennium and a half, the philosophers and theologians of Europe have scorned the marketplace. The bourgeois life, capitalism, Mencken’s “booboisie” and David Brooks’s “bobos”—all have been, and still are, framed as being responsible for everything from financial to moral poverty, world wars, and spiritual desuetude. Countering these centuries of assumptions and unexamined thinking is Deirdre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues, a magnum opus that offers a radical view: capitalism is good for us.

McCloskey’s sweeping, charming, and even humorous survey of ethical thought and economic realities—from Plato to Barbara Ehrenreich—overturns every assumption we have about being bourgeois. Can you be virtuous and bourgeois? Do markets improve ethics? Has capitalism made us better as well as richer? Yes, yes, and yes, argues McCloskey, who takes on centuries of capitalism’s critics with her erudition and sheer scope of knowledge. Applying a new tradition of “virtue ethics” to our lives in modern economies, she affirms American capitalism without ignoring its faults and celebrates the bourgeois lives we actually live, without supposing that they must be lives without ethical foundations.

High Noon, Kant, Bill Murray, the modern novel, van Gogh, and of course economics and the economy all come into play in a book that can only be described as a monumental project and a life’s work. The Bourgeois Virtues is nothing less than a dazzling reinterpretation of Western intellectual history, a dead-serious reply to the critics of capitalism—and a surprising page-turner.

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McCloskey Deirdre
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Deirdre N. McCloskey is Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Among her many books are The Bourgeois Virtues, Bourgeois Dignity, Bourgeois Equality,Crossing: A Memoir; The Secret Sins of Economics; and If You’re So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise, all published by the University of Chicago Press.

Apology: A Brief for the Bourgeois Virtues

I. Exordium: The Good Bourgeois
II. Narratio: How Ethics Fell
III. Probatio A: Modern Capitalism Makes Us Richer
IV. Probatio B: And Lets Us Live Longer
V. Probatio C: And Improves Our Ethics
VI. Refutatio: Anticapitalism Is Bad for Us
VII. Peroratio

1. The Very Word “Virtue”
2. The Very Word “Bourgeois”
3. On Not Being Spooked by the Word “Bourgeois”

Part 1 - The Christian and Feminine Virtues: Love
4. The First Virtue: Love Profane and Sacred
5. Love and the Transcendent
6. Sweet Love vs. Interest
7. Bourgeois Economists against Love
8. Love and the Bourgeoisie

Part 2 - The Christian and Feminine Virtues: Faith and Hope
10. Faith as Identity
11. Hope and Its Banishment
12. Against the Sacred
13. Van Gogh and the Transcendent Profane
14. Humility and Truth
15. Economic Theology

Part 3 - The Pagan and Masculine Virtues: Courage, with Temperance
16. The Good of Courage
17. Anachronistic Courage in the Bourgeoisie
18. Taciturn Courage against the “Feminine”
19. Bourgeois vs. Queer
20. Balancing Courage
21. Prudence Is a Virtue
22. The Monomania of Immanuel Kant
23. The Storied Character of Virtue
24. Evil as Imbalance, Inner and Outer: Temperance and Justice
25. The Pagan-Ethical Bourgeois

Part 5 - Systematizing the Seven Virtues
26. The System of the Virtues
27. A Philosophical Psychology?
28. Ethical Striving
29. Ethical Realism
30. Against Reduction
31. Character(s)
32. Antimonism Again
34. Dropping the Virtues, 1532–1958
35. Other Lists
36. Eastern and Other Ways
37. Needing Virtues

Part 6 - The Bourgeois Uses of the Virtues
38. P & S and the Capitalist Life
39. Sacred Reasons
40. Not by P Alone
41. The Myth of Modern Rati

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Analytical Political Economy
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