The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce

Deirdre N. McCloskey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.



Alan Ryan, “Is Capitalism Good for You?”


The New York Review of Books,

pp. 70—73.

December 21, 2006.



Wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, faith, hope and charity (love)


Seven virtues derived from: Cicero, Paul, Aristotle, (Plato & Socrates?)


(Justice, liberality and mercy) or [Tillich’s Faith, Hope and Love]


During the sixteenth century in northern Europe, predominantly the Rhine Valley, but especially the Netherlands, concomitant changes took place in society.


These included:




Aristocratic              Vs.                  Egalitarian


Upper class                                      middle class commercial


Disdain for the public’s opinion   widest circulation

Passion for liberty                           materialist (laissez faire)

Defense of honor                            defense of contracts

Personal heroism                           will of the masses

                        “Bad money drives out good”        easy credit widely accessible


“McCloskey wants to defend something close to the libertarian free market utopia, a society where capitalists and workers are unfettered by the state in the pursuit of profit and prosperity but constrained by their own moral allegiances.”

p. 72.




“merely the best of all imperfect solutions to the problems of human existence.”


The Bourgeois Virtues is such an impressive collection of intellectual riches that it disarms criticism in the usual sense.”

p. 73.

Notes on presenting this middle way.


Between the devil and the deep blue sea  (dilemma of the middle ground)

Myddle Earthe


One must avoid both:

Scylla of natural rights

Charybdis of Platonic justice

neither one nor the other:


Republican virtues  (Cicero)         nor      maximum Utility of the Pareto optimum



Neither the military                         nor      the clergy (2d Estate)

Where demonstrated power and force   Where faith in charity and mercy

Dominate social virtue and civic life.



Hobbes Leviathan               nor      Rousseau’s general will



Compare with;

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (died Feb 27, 2007, NYC) see: The Essential Middle