Morality, Masculinity and the
Interests and Duties
Two conceptions of morality dominate contemporary discussion: utilitarianism, which specifies the content of morality
in terms of the maximisation of total happiness or want
satisfaction, and Kantianism, which defines morality in
terms of formal principles of consistency. One purpose of
this paper is to locate these conceptions in a larger discursive context: that provided by a conception of the market
as the primary mechanism for the distribution of social
goods. The claim that there are conceptual linkages between utilitarianism and a concept of the market is not,
perhaps, very controversial. After al1, there are wel1 known
historical associations between utilitarianism and both classical and neo-classical accounts of market behaviour. Despite these affinities, I wil1 argue that it is not utilitarianism, but a form of Kantianism which supplies a morality
adequate to the market, though a Kantianism which is informed by much the same conceptions of individuality and
relations between individuals as utilitarianism and which
retains most of the substantial moral content of utilitarianism. Indeed, from the perspective provided by the market,
the common ground between utilitarianism and Kantianism
appears much more significant than their differences.
The concept of the market defines an important aspect
of a ‘public’ sphere of social existence: as such, it is contrasted with a ‘private’ realm of domesticity and personal
relations. This contrast plays an important role in the construction of gender. The public realm of the market, with
its associated conceptions of individuality, purposive action
and rationality, is a male domain; the ‘nether world’ (Hegel)
of the family, with its associated principles of relationship,
care, and emotion, is one in which female identity is constructed and contained. These two realms exist in a relatinship of mutual presupposition and exclusion; and the
nature of each is determined by what it excludes .
Thus, to the extent that utilitarian and Kantian moralities
are conceptual1y linked to the public – and male – domain
of market behaviour, they too are characterised by the
exclusion of the personal and emotional – and female from their domain.
The various figures which are constructed in this paper
– of utilitarianism and Kantianism, of the market, of masculinity, and so on – are discursive ones. What I wish to argue is that these figures exist within the same conceptual
terrain, and that we wil1 not understand any of them very
wel1 unless we locate them in relation to each other. Of
course, the conceptual structures displayed are historical1y
specific ones, and have real (extra-discursive) causes and
effects. But it is not my intention to explore these. At
most, I will occasionally assume that the various figures
constructed play an important role, not just in moral philosophy and our ordinary moral consciousness, but also in
defining for us certain aspects of our own identification
and the social world we inhabit. But the extent to which
this assumption is justified must be left to the judgement
. of the reader.
We may construct a concept of a simple market economy
out of three elements:
(1) The individual (whom I wi11 assume, for reasons
which wil1 emerge shortly, to be male). This individual must
be supposed to have a variety of wants which are largely
self-directed (i.e. the conditions for their satisfaction do
not make essential reference to the wants of other individuals). The objects required to satisfy wants are ‘goods’.
(2) The social division of labour. The various processes
by which goods are produced are distributed amongst distinct individuals or groups of individuals. Since individual
wants are various, individuals exist in a situation of interdependence, in the sense that any given individual is
dependent for the satisfaction of his wants on the productive activity of others.
(3) Private ownership. The goods produced, and presumably the means of producing them, exist as private property. Hence they are not available directly to satisfy the
wants of those who do not own them. This tension – between interdependence and private ownership – is resolved
through exchange: individuals exchange goods which they
own but do not want for goods they want but do not own.
Thus, goods become commodities. We may also suppose that
money exists as a medium of exchange, where money is a
good which both measures the exchange value of other
commodities and is exchangeable with them.
In a market situation constructed in this way each individual wil1 strive to further his interests, i.e. maximise the
satisfaction of his wants. In order to do so he must participate in exchange relations. But in order to do this, he must
possess, and presumably have produced, goods that other
individuals want. Thus, self-interest must become social1y
productive. Again, each individual wil1 strive to further his
interests by exchanging his own goods for as much as possible and by purchasing the goods of others for as little as
possible. However, so long as coercion is not brought to
bear, each must accept a price determined by market
forces, that is, by the ratio of the supply of similar goods
to the effective demand for them. Those who are fortunate
or skilful will benefit, and those who are unfortunate or
stupid wil1 suffer. However, as fluctuations in supply and
demand are reflected in the price of commodities, those
individuals who are able to relocate their productive activity wil1 use this information to move away from areas of
over production to those where demand exceeds supply.
Hence, there will be a tendency towards an equilibrium of
supply and demand. At this happy point, those wants which
find expression in the market, that is, the wants of those
engaged in social1y productive activity, will be satisfied by
the market. Further, since it is not possible for individuals
to determine the selling price of their goods, the best way
to maximise the satisfaction of their wants through market
activity is to improve their productive efficiency. Thus, the
market will tend towards maximising the quantity of goods
produced by given amounts of human productive activity.
.These results may be called ‘invisible hand’ theorems
(after Adam Smith) where the point of this phrase is to
pick out the fact that under certain social conditions,
results are achieved which may be desirable but which are
not brought about by actions which are designed to bring
them about. Rather, they are achieved by indirection: individuals pursue their own essentially self-directed goals;
but, as a consequence of their activity, the wants of many
others are satisfied. There is, in other words, a hiatus
between the intentional content of individual activity and
its overall social significance .
If the commodities exchanged include the capacity to
perform productive work (‘labour power’), i.e., the scope of
the commodity market is extended so as to include a labour
market, then the concept of a simple market economy becomes that of a capitalist or ‘possessive’ market . While
this transition affects the detail, it does not affect the
substance of the invisible hand theories outlined above. The
wages of labour will also be determined by market forces;
some will benefit and some will suffer as a consequence;
but so long as there is free movement in the market place,
those involved will be able to move from one kind of production to another, and the tendency will be for labour to
be employed in those areas where there is a demand. If the
commodity labour power were produced in the same way as
other commodities, then there would also be a tendency for
there to be an equilibrium between the suply of labour and
the demand for it. However, there are, as we shall see in a
moment, good reasons not to make this assumption.
Neither of the concepts of a market economy that I
have outlined corresponds in any simple way to any past or
present social reality. In every society there are positions,
e.g. of status, which carry with them entitlement to social
goods independently of the market; there are also goods,
such as prestige, honour, attractiveness, which only roughly
correlate with those goods distributed through market activity. Still there is no doubt that the market has been a
pervasive feature of modern social life, and it has been the
construction of a concept of a market which has seemed to
many social theorists from the eighteenth centory on to
provide the key to the understanding of much that is
characteristic of, and specific to, the advanced societies.
There is, however, one dimension in which the concept
of the market is not just incomplete with respect to, but
also parasitic on, another aspect of social existence. The
social relations constituted by the market presuppose a
sphere of social life in which the individuals who participate in the market are themselves produced and reproduced. For a market society just as I have described it
would not reproduce itself. To do so it would require that
purely self-interested individuals enter into relationships
with each other in order to produce, nurture and care for
other self-interested individuals just like themselves. To
make sense of the apparent sacrifices of self-interest involved here we would at the very least have to assume the
existence of goods of a quite different kind to those involved in ordinary market transactions. To comprehend the
social processes necessary here, we also need to suppose
that there are human relationships – certainly those between parent and child, probably those between parents which are conceptually distinct from the contractual and
voluntary engagements for mutual benefit typical of the
market . In other words the motivations and relationships required here are qualitatively quite different to
those characteristic of market behaviour. So it is necessary
to assume the existence of a sphere of social life other
than that of the market and constituted by quite different
kinds of relationships. This is the realm of personal life,
and will consist principally of the family, though it may
also contain other intimate relationships.
The relationship between the two spheres is a complex
one. Clearly, at least some individuals participate in both.
It is plausible – and realistic – to assume that those who
participate in market relationships are paradigmatically
male heads of households (thus, the male personal pronoun
is appropriate to refer to them) who represent their families in that sphere. Thus, the self who participates in the
market does so both as an individual and also as a representative of the household unit. This male individual will
also represent the wider public world of order, rationality
and work (of which more in the following section) within
the family. In which case, it will be the woman (mother,
wife) who embodies in her existence the principles of family life and the practices of nurturance, love and support
that it requires. Thus, the duality between public and private also infects the private sphere itself. Indeed, that this
must be so is clear from the perspective of reproduction.
For if the private and domestic realm is to reproduce not
just the physical individuals but also the structure of individuality required by public life, then it must contain within itself an embodiment of that public individuality. In this
way, the private realm supplies the principles of its own
It is now time to develop the structure of individuality
required by the market. So far, the market individual has
been minimally characterised: as male, and with a variety
of largely self-directed wants. Now, for such an individual
to participate satisfactorily in market relations, he must be
capable of moving from one kind of productive activity to
another. Thus, he must conceive of himself as having an
identity which is quite distinct from any specific kind of
production that he is involved in. He is not, for example,
defined by his occupancy of a given social role, except the
highly abstract one of worker, and, perhaps that of husband/father/head of household which pertains to his private
responsibilities. The relationship between an individual and
any particular kind of productive activity is a contingent
one. This contingency is even more marked in the possessive market model, where the individual is an owner of his
capacity to work, and this particular item of property must
be alienated regularly in market transactions·. Thus, the
market requires a conception of individuality which is abstracted from specific kinds of productive activity, though
the capacity to perform productive work must be assumed
to be part of the individual essence .
In a similar way, the goals of individual activity take
on an abstract and non-specific character. Each individual
undertakes a given activity of production, not to achieve
ends which are intrinsic to it (‘internal goods’, in MacIntyre’s phrase ), but as a means to an end which is
equally achievable in other ways, and is thus external to
any particular kind of activity. Indeed, the market itself is
a complex mechanism which provides an indefinite variety
of means for individuals to pursue essentially the same
goal. It is a matter of some nicety to specify what that
goal is. It must be conceived of as being sufficiently nonspecific to be produced equally by a wide variety of activities and at the same time having suffiCient substance to
move individuals to action on its behalf. In certain narrowly defined contexts, it is possible to identify this goal
simply as the acquisition of money – which is quantifiable,
additive and universally desired. But this merely postpones
the problem. In the last resort, it is its exchangeability
with other commodities that makes money desirable, and we
still need to know in general terms what it is that makes
the possession and consumption of commodities desirable.
This problem was resolved by earlier utilitarians by
positing pleasure or happiness as the ultimate object of all
desire, and pain as the ultimate object of all aversion,
where these were conceived as measurable psychological
states distinct from the activities which produced them.
The pleasure/pain continuum was, on this account, the analogue of the possession of money; and, indeed, according to
Bentham, precisely correlated with it . Later utilitarians have sought to avoid the empirical implausibility of
·this account in various ways: perhaps by the thesis that
each individual has, as a kind of meta-desire, the desire
maximally to satisfy all his other desires, or by a formal
characterisation of the nature of preference behaviour. The
point of these manoeuvres is to provide an absolutely general way of specifying what it is to want something without being committed to the idea that there is one substantive thing (psychological state or whatever) which is always
wanted. The precise solution of this problem is of no great
importance here. Often I will adopt the jargon of speaking
of individuals seeking to maximise their ‘utilities’, without
pretending to have a precise account of what this means.
The major point to bear in mind is that however we characterise the final goal of individual behaviour, it must take
on a highly abstract and non-specific character, and thus
correspond to the equally abstract character of the goal
Mediating between these two abstractions are the various determinate activities which individuals undertake to
achieve this goal: the production and exchange of commodities. In general terms, these are characterisable as
‘work’, where that word is used to specify activities which
are conceived of as having only instrumental value, i.e.
where the only purpose in undertaking them is that they
are necessary to achieve the required goal . This context determines a highly specific form of rationality which
is identified with seeking and finding more efficient means
of achieving given ends. On this account, the rational
agent is one who minimises the work required for the goals
I have mentioned that the desires of these individuals
are largely self-directed. The point of this condition is to
preclude certain kinds of altruistic behaviour which, if pervasive in the market, would interfere with the operation of
the invisible hand. Thus, if participants in market transactions were moved by the circumstances of those with
whom they were bargaining, they would not enforce the
competitive price; if employers were moved by the plight
of their unproductive employees, they would not introduce
more efficient methods of production; if entrepreneurs
were more sensitive to the feelings and aspirations of their
debtors, they would not enforce bankruptcies; and so on
<ID). Of course, if actuality corresponds to concept, in the
long run it is non-altruistic behaviour which produces the
most beneficial result, but that run can be very long and
the suffering of many specific individuals remains uncompensated as far as they are concerned. Widespread sensitivity to the plight of individual others would react to this,
and the long-run tendencies remain unactualised. Hence,
t.!1_eyroviso of pervasive self-interest.
This proviso is not arbitrary, but meshes with the concept of individuality constructed so far. According to this
concept, the identity both of the individual and of his goals
is given independently of the activity he undertakes to
achieve those goals. But it is not just the activity of production and exchange which must be conceived instrumentally; so too must the other individuals with whom the individual enters into relationship. These can only be conceptualised as a means to the already conceived end of utility
maximisation. Thus, the self-directedness which is required
for optimal market behaviour emerges as part of the very
structure of purposive activity. Within these structures, it
is impossible to conceive of activity which is genuinely
other-directed, i.e. which takes the well-being of another
as the goal of one’s activity.
Of course, this only applies within the public sphere:
the structure of personal life is quite different. Indeed, the
male self who occurs in the market already, ~ head of
household, represents the women and children comprised by
it. Family relations and those between friends and lovers
presuppose different principles from those involved in the
market; however, to the extent that they do, they will
require different conceptions of individuality and of the
relations between individuals. Thus, for example, the relationships that hold between market individuals are both
impersonal and universalistic. That is to say, individuals
occur in these relationships only through the medium of the
property (including property in labour-power) they own; and
the extent of possible relationships is limited only by the
extent of the market. A morality which is appropriate to
these relationships will be equally impersonal and universalistic: it will concern relations between unknown others, and
it will specify rights and duties which hold between owners
of property and makers of contracts. On the other hand,
the relationships involved in family life are essentially particularistic: they involve a differential evaluation of those
tied by bonds of kin; and the commitment and responsibilities which it engenders do not hold generally. The particularity here is not necessarily that of specifiable characteristics; it is picked out through the personal possessive pronoun; thus the commitments are to ‘.!!!r child’, ‘.!!!r wife’ or
whoever. Paradoxically, the impersonal and universal sphere
is also that of rampant egoism; the sphere of family life,
thus egocentrically demarcated, is one in which egoism is in principle – transcended.
This does not mean that the private and the personal
has a better claim to moral centrality than the public and
the impersonal. They are indeed both sides of the same
coin, with the nature of each defined by what it excludes.
The public sphere of production and exchange excludes the
emotional, insofar as this is transformed by the operation
of reason into ordered and calculable self-interest. The private sphere of domestic life excludes reason, except insofar as this is represented by the males who also figure in
market relations; femininity is constructed in terms of emotion divorced from rationality. Since production and work
are defined in terms of public activity, these are excluded
from the private sphere, which becomes the sphere of consumption. Universality is excluded, so the domestic becomes
a sphere of limitation. It is within this framework that
masculinity and femininity come to be constructed as different, opposed, but essentially parasitic on each other. So
too, morality will come to have a dual character: one
appropriate to the public and male domain; another to the
private and female sphere . The claims of these moralities are different, and may even be opposed; but they too
are dependent upon each other.
I will return to the relationship between the spheres of
social existence and their attendant moralities later. For
the moment, however, I will concentrate on the morality
appropriate to the realm of public life.
Moralities and Societies
“He’s a disgrace to lemmings!”
The concept of morality is not, except perhaps in the most
schematic sense, a universal, but needs to be constructed
for every form of social life. This is not just a matter of
the content of morality but also of its form. Thus, according to a certain (highly idealised) account of the ancient
Greek polis, this form of political life defines a situation in
which there is no systematic dissonance between the conditions necessary for the flourishing of the (adult, male, citizen) individual and the wel1-being of the community as a
whole. Indeed, individual flourishing is in part definable by
the contribution made to social weB-being, because the
identity of the individual is constituted as such by participation in the life necessary to sustain the polis. In this situation, an appropriate morality – indeed, if we are to
believe Aristotle, the appropriate morality – is one concerned primarily with excellence of character. In a market
society, on the other hand, the identity of the individual is
given independently of any social relationship wider than
the sphere of his private domain. Others with whom he
comes in contact in the market exist either as means or as
impediments to the furtherance of his own ends, not as
feBow citizens united by joint participation in a common
project. The interest of each individual is conceptua11y
quite distinct from those of others and though the various
invisible hand theorems locate a systematic rt:iationship
between the conditions for the satisfaction of one individual’s wants and the satisfaction of the wants of others,
nevertheless there is a significant discontinuity between
the motivational context of individual behaviour and its
overa11 social significance.
The link between individual self-interest and the interests of others is only maintained if certain limits are
placed on the expression of self-interest.
example, the market requires the institution of private property, so that individuals may use or exchange goods which
they have acquired in appropriate ways, e.g. by production
or exchange. However, a purely self-interested individual
will as soon steal as produce or exchange; indeed, will do
so sooner if this is a more efficient way of maximising his
utilities. Again, exchange relations presuppose a framework
of contract, so that obligations incurred are honoured when
the time is appropriate. However, self-interested individuals
will break contracts just as soon as it is in their interests
to do so. But unless individuals have some assurance that
property wi11 be respected and contracts kept, they will
have no motivation to involve themselves in production and
exchange. So without some constraints on the operation of
self-interest, the market would soon co11apse into brutal
The problem is in part resolved by the existence of a
body of law which defines the institutions of property and
contract and provides sanctions for infringements. However,
this does not address what is at the crux of the matter.
Law itself stands in need of legislation, i.e. of an answer
to the question ‘Why should one obey the law?’ Further,
the stability of a legal system requires that there be a
widespread belief in its legitimacy, i.e. the belief that
what is proscribed by law ought to be proscribed. Thus, the
existence and functioning of law presupposes that there is
an extra-legal justification for it. It is the task of morality
to provide such a justification.
Nevertheless, though the role of morality requires that
it be distinct from law, it wi11 bear a close conceptual
resemblance to it. Morality will, like law, be concerned to
regulate relationships between individuals whose only bond
is mutual self-interest; it will, like law, not be concerned
primarily with motivation or character, as these are
already defined by the market and thus must be taken as
given; like law, the major concern of morality will be to
specify the limits on individual behaviour necessary to
make social life possibie; and finally, morality and law will
both confront the individual as something other, as a
restraint on the exercise of his natural inclinations. Which
is to say that morality, like law, will take the form of duty
which is distinct from, and opposed to, the material world
The content of morality – the range of duties which it
specifies – is not difficult to describe, at least in general
terms. Morality will consist of just those restrictions which
are necessary for the market to operate: property, contract, and so on. Unsurprisingly perhaps, most modern moral
philosophers have simply taken that content for granted,
and turned their attention to what they conceived to be a
more difficult and important task: of locating this content
within a coherent and rationa11y based morality .
Utilitarianism and the Market
The most familiar and obvious morality for a market society is utilitarianism. After all, the glory of the market is
the extent to which it claims to maximise production in
just those directions in which human wants exist and to
minimise the effort involved. If the satisfaction of wants
can be equated with happiness, and effort with pain, and
the ratio of happiness to pain with utility, then utility
seems to be just what the market provides, and utilitarianism just what it needs.
There are many conceptual linkages between this
account of the market and utilitarianism in its modern (i.e.
post-Bentham) versions. First, there is the conception of
happiness or utility as something distinct from the various
activities which give rise to it. As we have seen, this concept of a final goal is implicit in the account of individual
motivation presupposed by the market. It is equa11y involved in any systematic presentation of utilitarianism:
various happinesses must be conceived as commensurable
and even quantifiable items, and thus distinct from the
range of qualitatively distinct activities which individuals
participate in. Further, both utilitarianism and market
theory display the same notion of rationality: ends are
given, and all that reason can do is to minimise the costs
involved in achieving those ends. And finally, the utilitarian calculus makes no essential reference to such contingencies and particularities as friendship and love. To be
sure, these have their instrumental value or disvalue as
sources of pleasure or pain, but then so too do other forms
of consumption. And utilitarianism strictly enjoins us to
count al1 subjects of happiness and pain as equal; and not
to give any particular consideration to those near and dear
to us. Utilitarianism as a morality is as impersonal as the
market in its distribution of rewards and punishments.
Nowadays, psychological hedonism is – correctly assumed to be 10gical1y distinct from utilitarianism as a
moral theory. However, if the self-interest characteristic
of market behaviour is conceived to be the way in which
pleasure maximising behaviour is translated into the currency of commodities and exchange, then psychological
hedonism is causal1y linked with the goal of ethical hedonism. Further, from the assumption that generalised utility is
the source of moral obligations, and the thesis of pervasive
self-interest, it is an easy matter to deduce just those limitations on individual behaviour which are necessary for the
market to survive. Thus, the union between utilitarian
morality and market theory seems an appropriate and happy
There is, however, a crucial problem. A utilitarian
morality may specify just the limitations required by the
~arket; however, for these to exist as duties or as obligatIOns, they must have some purchase on the motives of
those subject to them. If the general happiness is the
ground of obligation, it must provide or imply a reason for
those subject to the obligation to act in the ways prescribed. I use the notion of a ‘reason’ here very broadly. It
is intended to capture the idea that when one knows what
one ought to do one has ipso facto some motivation (not
necess;>rily a sufficient one) so to act. To inform an individual that he ought to do something is, in this broad
sense, to provide him with a reason for so acting. Thus the
account provided by utilitarianism of what is morally obligatory must be such as to explain, or to link with an
explanation of, its purchase on the motives of those subject
to it. Clearly this generates problems for utilitarianism.
The content of a utilitarian morality is the general happiness; but the psychological basis of market behaviour is concern for oneself. Is there a place there for this other concern which now seems necessary?
There are two ways in which a place might be made.
The first is to postulate, as part of the psychological
equipment of those subject to utilitarian morality, a sentiment of generalised benevolence: the capacity to desire the
happiness of others and to feel an aversion to their suffering . Given that such a sentiment exists, perhaps in a
latent form, then the function of moral discourse will be to
activate it. There are, however, a number of insuperable
difficulties facing this move. Empirically, experiences of
benevolence, fellow-feeling and the like are familiar
enough, but these are of their nature directed towards particular and usually specifiable others. This is reflected in
the account of the market constructed here, in that the
operation of these sentiments is channelled into the private
sphere where they may take as their objects those with
“,,:,hom individuals share their personal life. But the obligatlons necessary to regulate market behaviour concern unknown others, or those for whom one has no personal feeling. These obligations come into play in just those areas
where benevolence is lacking. Further, the conceptualisation of the market from which the invisible hand theorems
derive is one which precludes benevolence. This is not to
say that it requires active animosity; on the contrary, it
operates on the basis of a rational concern for one’s own
well-being and a disinterest in the well-being of others.
Indeed, as argued above, the structure of purposive behaviour which is implicit in the conceptualisation of the market only has a place for the interests of others insofar as
these are rationally assessed as means to maximise the
independently conceived utility of the individual.
The second way in which an attempt may be made to
secure a motivational basis for a utilitarian morality is
through the structure of rational self-interest. After all, it
is in the interests of individuals that the structure of private property and contract on which the market depends is
maintained in existence. For this to be the case, it is
necessary that individuals by and large restrict the operation of self-interest in various ways (e.g. to respect the
property of others and to keep contracts even where there
is a good chance of profiting by not doing so). Thus the
obligations derivable from the principle of generalised utility turn out to be in the rational self-interest of those subject to them, and the apparent conflict between duty and
obligation turns out to be the conflict between long and
short term interests .
However, the concept of rationality derived from the
market is not strong enough to sustain this position .
On any given occasion when self-interest p~rompts a breach
of obligation, a self-interested individual will reason as
While I depend on this institution (property, contract) and its existence depends on people generally
respecting it, it is highly unlikely that my not doing
so will make a significant difference. It may be the
case that if everyone reasons as I do, then the institution on which they and I depend will break
down, and this will be a pity. But again, the fact
that I reason this way is of negligible relevance to
how other people reason. Hence, I will breach the
But everyone will reason in this way: then the institutions
on which the market depends will collapse.
One response to the free-r ider’ s reasoning is to
propose a system of coercion which is so efficient, with
sanctions which are so terrible, that it will never be rational to reason in this way because the probability and the
extent of punishment will always outweigh the probability
and extent of gain. However, this merely postpones the
problem. The morality in question must also apply to those
who must enforce the law and punish breaches of it. But it
is easy enough to generate free-rider problems for them:
cases where their own rational long term self-interest conflicts with the obligations they must respect if market
society is to endure. And this problem cannot, on pain of
regress, be solved in the same way.
I conclude, therefore, that despite – or even because of
– its conceptual linkages with market theory, utilitarianism
does not provide an adequate morality for a market society. Utilitarianism combines a theory of motivation and of
rationality with the claim that generalised utility is the
ground of obligation. The accounts of motivation and rationality are both derivable from a theory of market behaviour; and, given that theory, there is some reason to suppose that utility is maximised. However, if one adheres to
the theory of motivation, the account of rationality is not
strong enough to yield the motivational restrictions necessary to sustain market society.
Kantianism and the Market
The nub of the free-rider’S reasoning is that he both wants
to make use of an institution and yet he also makes himself
an exception to the principles embodied in that institution.
That he reasons in this way is precisely what is required by
the form of rationality – reason as instrumental – with
which he is equipped. The role of reason in this sense is to
seek out the most efficient means of attaining given ends.
It places behaviour in a causal milieu, and works out the
consequences of alternative courses of action. That action
which maximises the ratio of happiness to pain for the
agent must be selected. The free-rider estimates – correctly – that the consequences of any of his actions on the institutions on which he depends are near enough to nil;
hence, he can – and does – ignore them. But if everyone so
reasons and so acts, and they will do so if they are equipped with the same notion of rationality, then the institutions on which they depend must collapse.
This line of reasoning does, however, offend against
some notion of rationality, even if it is not that so far discussed. To make oneself an exception to a principle to
which one is otherwise committed involves a certain kind
of inconsistency. In certain cases, there may be principled
grounds on the basis of which an exception can be made.
But this is not the case for the free-rider. His only ground
is that it is in his interests to make himself an exception
to the principle, and it is incompatible with the adherence
to any principle that it may be breached ~henever selfinterest prompts a breach. Further, it is just the potential
use of this ground for exemption from the principle which
engenders a multiplicity of exceptions, and leads to the
collapse of the institution which embodies that principle.
Let us assume then that a requirement of consistency
can be imported into the operative concept of reason. This
has some independent motivation: it is, after all, a principle of reason which is often employed in the realm of
discourse and argument. In the present context, it supple-
ments the concept of instrumental reason by providing a
constraint on the way in which goals may be pursued; it
provides that, if an agent makes use of an institution, e.g.
that of property or contract, then, if all things are equal,
he must not make himself an exception to the principle embodied in that institution. Nor does the ‘ceteris paribus’
clause provide an automatic exemption. The ground appealed to must be such as, when it is allowed to others, to be
compatible with the continued existence of the if’stitution.
Further, it must be such that a self-interested agent be
prepared to allow it to all other self-interested agents. He
cannot, in other words, make himself an exception just
because he is himsel’.
There is an important corollary to this line of reasoning. The place of other agents in the calculations of instrumental reason is purely as means (or impediments) to independently conceived ends. However, a principle of consistency applies as much to agents as to actions. If one’s selfconception is as a property owner, a maker of contracts,
and, in general, as an individual free to participate in a
wide range of productive activities, this self-characterisation must also form part of one’s conception of others. It is
not just one’s principles of behaviour which must be available to others, but also those principles which constitute
self-identity. Thus, other individuals must figure in one’s
reasoning and one’s behaviour, not just as means, but as
agents (property owners, contract makers, radically free
individuals) in their own right.
Rationality as consistency conceives of the activity
and even the identity of self-interested individuals in the
market place as related, not just causally, but also conceptually via principles of which they are all instances. It
commits the agent to acting on the basis of principle and
thus to taking into account not just the effects of what he
does, but the principles which his behaviour instantiates.
This may also involve a calculation of effects,vut not so
much the actual effects of behaviour as the hypothetical
effects of the adoption of a certain principle by all agents
in relevantly similar positions. If such effects are incompatible with the existence of the institution on which the
agent depends, then the action is precluded.
It is often argued against moralities which rest on an
appeal to formal principles of universality and consistency
that they lack determinate content. This complaint may be
justified if the principles are conceived of as supplying the
entire content of morality. However, in the way in which
such a morality is presented here (and, perhaps, for the
more plausible versions which have been argued for in the
literature), it takes as its field a pre-existing conceptual
content: the concept of property, contract and the dominance of self-interested motivation may be taken as given.
The role of the formal principle is not to provide an alternative content to morality; but rather to restrict the operation of those principles of behaviour which already exist.
Self-interest is so much overridden, as constrained, and what is more – constrained in just the ways necessary to
preserve the market structures within which it operates
and flour ishes.
The constraints imposed by this concept of rationality
will be experienced as the demands of duty as opposed to
. the natural thrust of incIination. But as one condition: the
principles of reason must be supposed to have a motivational presence in the individual. If this were not the case,
reference to such principles could not constitute reasons
for the individual to act in the required way, nor could
they have any influence on those subject to them. Hence,
the individual subject to this morality must be supposed to
be equipped with a form of rationality other than that of
purely instrumental reason .
The relationship between a morality of this kind which I will, without further argument, characterise as
Kantian – and utilitarianism is a complex one. Clearly, they
provide quite different and incompatible accounts of the
basis of morality and the nature of moral obligation. Still,
at another level there are similarities and complementarities. Adherence to the formal principles of a Kantian morality will preserve the market structure, allow for the
operation of the invisible hand and thus maximise the utilities of those involved. Thus, these formal principles do
serve a utilitarian goal, even though they are not justified
by an appeal to that goal. Again, the motivations which
Kantianism assumes to move individuals to action, apart
from considerations of duty, are just those of maximising
one’s own utility which form the motivational basis of utilitarianism. From the perspective of a market society, Kantianism plays the role of a necessary compelement to utilitarianism, rather than something essentially opp”sed to it.
Utilitarianism corresponds to the psychology and the morality which operates within the market; Kantianism is needed
to define the structures within which the market operates.
However, for these complementarities to exist, utilitarian
considera~ions must be subordinated to Kantian ones.
Home from Market
The market presupposes a qualitatively separate sphere of
social existence within which the individuals who participate in the market are themselves produced and reproduced. As I have mentioned, these two realms may be defined in terms of a number of converging contrasts: between public and private; between reason (now in an extended sense) and emotion; between work and consumption;
between self-interest and altruism; between universality
and particularity; and finally – constructed out of such contrasts – the distinction between male and female.
These contrasts form the basis for two distinct conceptions of morality. Male individuality, at least in its public
representation, is constructed as an abstraction from particular activities. It is free in the sense that no particular
kind of market activity is essential to it. That morality
must take the form of duty is a necessary counter ..leight to
such radically free individuality. The content nf duty is
provided by the reason of these individuals, a reason which
requires that those abstract individuals subject to it recognise the equally abstract individuality of tHose with whom
they have market transactions but not personal relations.
This entails a requirement of equality, perhaps of justice.
Even utilitarianism which, as is well known, has problems
with the concept of justice, does recognise the basic moral
equality of all those subject to pleasure and pain. KantianiStll, here, as always, more insightful into the requirements
nf market society, demands equal and mutual recognition of
r idledlv free but rational individuals.
% change on previous year
Source: Department of Employment
!thin the private sphere, matters are very different.
If, on this conception of public life, male individuality in-
volves the radical freedom not to be tied to specific roles,
the complementary conception of female moral identity is
constructed out of the woman’s role in reproduction and in
terms of the associated responsibilities of nurture and care.
If male individuality seeks ends which essentially pertain to
self (and, perhaps, to those represented by self), women
must take the interests of others as sufficient basis for
action. But not, of course, all others: only those within the
same private sphere (husband, child). Even the structure of
motivation is different. What moves men to action are
emotions which have been transformed by the requirements
of reason into channels of efficiency and consistency;
feminine . emotions, devoid of reason, are everywhere
infected by excess and particularity. Hence, the lack of
proper regard for what is due to impersonal and unknown
others; the lack of a sense of justice, which has notoriously – been supposed to be characteristic of women
. This lack, if such it is, should not be confused with a
lack of morality as such. Women figure in a different arena
of moral discourse to the one in which the public
conception of justice is constructed . The two arenas
are not independent; indeed, each requires the other. But
the two conceptions of morality exist in a state of tension,
making incompatible demands and relating in different ways
to the motiva tions of those subject to them. Hence, their
essential complementarity is only ensured where the
private sphere is properly subordinated to the public.
conceptions of reason, order and justice which are, in
principle, embodied in the male head of household.
There are a number of further ways in which the two
moralities may be contrasted. For example, the morality of
the market place manifests itself in the form of duty and,
as such, imposes itself on the unmoral inclinations of thos . .
subject to it. Transgression of duty is an ever present and
conceptually available possibility. The individual is aware
that the path mapped out by self-interest passes through
the boundary defined by morality. To cross that boundary
may involve punishment or guilt, but that is all. The self of
the transgressor remains intact. The corresponding conception of female identity is, on the other hand, defined much
more tightly in terms of existing within certain relationships and performing certain associated activities. Withdrawal from these relationships or failure to carry out
these activities is, of course, always possible, but such
failures will take a different form, and have different consequences, from a transgression of public morality. Failure
must involve, not just punishment and guilt, but a real
threat to individual identity. To conceive of such failures
in systematic terms is to envisage, not a mere infringement
of the moral law, but a loss of self. In this sense, the
morality of the private realm is part of the identity of
those subject to it in a way that the morality of the public
world is not. The realm of the private also infects male
identity. If, ~a market individual, male identity is that of
abstract individual, it is also constituted in relation to the
domestic world as head of household/husband/father /breadwinner, and failure to perform the tasks asso~iated with
.these roles may well threaten male self-identity.
This not not the place to explore these and other contrasts between public and private morality and the concep-
tions of male and female moral identity constructed out of
these. For present purposes it is sufficient to note that
each, by excluding the other, relies on an im)overished
conception of human life and relationships; and that since
each presupposes the other, neither can claim a selfsufficient moral status on its own. But how the tensions
between them are to be resolved is another matter.
Beyond Market Morality
To return to the main theme: in general terms, what I have
been concerned to show is that the two most influential
modern accounts of morality occupy the same conceptual
terrain as a certain account of market behaviour. To locate
utilitarianism and Kantianism within this larger discursive
context may do something to explain, if not the strength,
at least the persistence of these two accounts of morality.
If anything lies at the centre of modern thought about
social life it is the concept of the competitive market constructed by the great tradition of political economy in the
eighteenth century. But to locate utilitarianism and Kantianism in this context should also expose the limitations of
these two moral traditions. Despite its theoretical and
ideological significance, it is dubious whether this concept
of a market has ever been an adequate model of the economies of advanced societies. It ignores or downplays the
significance of class and power, of corporation and monopoly, and of the relationships between state and the economy. But more important than the question of its empirical
adequacy is the need to develop a moral perspective on the
basis of which the representations of human nature, human
relations and human goals supplied by this model can be
evaluated. If the argument of this paper is correct, these
representations also form part of the implicit content of
Kantian and utilitarian moralities; which lack, ther dore,
the requisite independence to provide a critical perspective
I have already said something of a different limitation
to utilitarian and Kantian moralities. To the extent that
they provide moralities appropriate to the market, they
presuppose a distinct sphere of social life in which the
individuals who participate in the market are produced and
reproduced. Insofar as they provide moralities appropriate
to a certain conception of public life and the conception of
male identity constructed in terms of it, they are inappropriate to the associated conception of private life and the
conception of female identity constructed out of it.
To do better than utilitarian and Kantian moralities it
is necessary to discover or construct a morality which is
informed by quite different conceptions of social existence.
We must be able to envisage a form of life in which the
competitive market is not the dominant mode of distribution and where there is no systematic hiatus between the
intentional content of individual behaviour and its overall
social significance. Further, we must be able to conceive
of a society in which the divisions between two spheres of
social life (public and private) and between two kinds of
human existence (male and female) are overcome. And
these are not small matters .
Cp. Genevieve Lloyd, ‘Public Reason and Private Passion’, Politics 18
(983), pp. 27-37, especially p. 28: ‘… what has happened has not
been a simple exclusion of women, but a constitution of femininity
through that exclusion…. Femininity has been constructed, through
exclusion, as a necessary “complement” to maleness.’ See also
Genevieve Lloyd, The Man of Reason (London, Methuen, 1984), esp.
See Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth
of Nations, ed. R.H. Campbell and A.S. Skinner (Oxford, Clarendon
Press, 1976), Vol. I, Book IV, Ch. ii, p. 456. The theorem about
private interests and public benefits is stated particularly clearly in
Book I, Ch. ii, pp. 26-27, without, however, the phrase ‘invisible hand’
being used. The modern versions of this theorem show that the equilibrium state of a competitive market is Pareto optimal. See, e.g., the
account in D.M. Winch, Analytical Welfare Economics (Harmondsworth,Penguin, 1971), Ch. 5.
The term ‘possessive’ is due to C.B. Macpherson. See the two models
of market society provided in The Political Theory of Possessive
Individualism (London, Oxford University Press, 1962; reprinted 1972),
pp. 51-61. See also Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (1944;
reprinted Boston, Beacon Press, 1957), especially Chs 4-5.
On this theme, see Carole Paternan, ‘Women and Consent’, Political
Theory 8 (1980), pp. 149-168.
–A point emphasised by Macpherson in his account of ‘possessive
individualism’. See The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, p.
3 and passim.
Cp. Marx: ‘Indifference towards specific labours corresponds to a
form of society in which individuals can with ease transfer from one
labour to another, and when the specific kind is a matter of chance
for them, hence indifference.’ Grundrisse, translated by Martin
Nicolaus (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1973), Introduction, p. 104.
See Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (London, Duckworth, 1981), pp.
See Jeremy Benthan, Principles of the Civil Code, Ch. 6, a selection
from which appears in C.B. Macpherson (ed.), Property (Toronto,
University of Toronto Press, 1978), pp. 46-49.
Cp. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago, University of
Chicago Press, 1958) on the distinction between labour and work.
See the discussion in Christopher McMahon, ‘Morality and the
Invisible Hand’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (1981), pp. 247-277,
especially pp. 252-53, 262-63.
Thus the well known ‘double standard’. For a recent discussion, see
Frigga Haug, ‘Morals Also Have Two Genders’, New Left Review 143
(January-February 1984), pp. 51-67.
Cp. Nietzsche: ‘(Philosophers) wanted to furnish the rational ground
of morality – and every philosopher hitherto has believed he has furnished this rational ground; morality itself, however, was taken as
“given”.’ Beyond Good and Evil, translated by R.J. Hollingdale
(Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1976), Part Five, 11186, p. 90.
13 See, for example, J.J.C. Smart, ‘An Outline of a System of Utilitarian
Ethics’, in J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism: For and
Against (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1973; reprinted
1983), .p. 7. This seems also to have been Hume’s position in his later
writings; see, for example, ‘An Enquiry concerning the Principles of
Morals’, Section IX, in Hume’s Enquiries, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge
(Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1966), pp. 268-84.
14 Hume was at least tempted towards some such position as this in his
earlier writings; see, e.g., A Treatise of Human Nature, see, e.g.,
Book II1, Part Il, Section (in, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford, Clarendon
Press, 1967), p. 492: ‘For whether the passion of self-interest be
esteemed vicious or virtuous, ’tis all a case; since itself alone
restrains it.’ See also the discussion in Genevieve Lloyd: ‘Public
Reason and Private Passion’, pp. 29-30, in The Man of Reason, pp.
54-56. However, he had certainly rejected this view by the time of
the Enquiry, see Section V, Part Il, pp. 218-19; and also the discussion of the ‘free-rider’ (Not using that term) in Section IX, Part Il,
15 The standard modern treatment of the free-rider is Mancur Olson:
The Logic of Collective Action (Cambridge Mass., Harvard University
Press, 1965; reprinted 1977), especially Ch. 2.
16 This response was that of Hobbes, whose ‘fool’ is the 17th-century
ancestor of the free-rider; see Leviathan, ed. Michael Oakeshott
(Oxford, Blackwell, n.d.), Part I, Ch. 15, pp. 94-96.
17 In this section, I make use of some arguments presented in Ross
Poole, ‘Reason, Self-Interest and “Commercial Society”: the Social
Content of Kantian Morality’, Critical Philosophy 1 (984), pp. 24-46.
18 In Rawls’ ‘original position’ agents reason about the structure of
society behind a ‘veil of ignorance’, i.e. they do not know what position they will occupy in society. This device provides a way in which
the use of instrumental reason will yield much the same result as the
application of a more universalistic concept of reason in an epistemically less exiguous context. Still, this does not resolve the motivational problem, and Rawls must suppose that the rational individuals
subject to the rules of justice are also equipped with a ‘sense of
justice’. See John Rawls: A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.,
Harvard University Press, 1971), especially Chs. I, 11, VIII.
19 A number of theorists of morality have remarked on the failure of
women to achieve the moral standards of civilised society, e.g.
Rousseau, Hegel, Freud. For discussion, see Carole Pateman, “‘The
Disorder of Women”: Women, Love and the Sense of Justice’, Ethics
91 (1980), pp. 20-34; Genevieve Lloyd: ‘Public Reason and Private
Passion’, ‘Rousseau on Reason, Nature and Women’, Metaphilosophy 14
(983), pp. 308-326 and The Man of Reason, especially Ch. V.
20 For a fascinating account of the differences in moral awareness
between men and women, see Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice
(Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1982).
21 Thanks to Tony Skillen and Genevieve Lloyd for comments on an
earlier draft of this paper.
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