Competition and the Economy: Ethical Perspectives



When dealing with ethics and economic competition it is necessary to distinguish between concrete and higher level plans and between perfect and non-perfect competition. A critical perspective on competition emphasizes its lack of distributive ability, its negative human and social implications for the majority, and its basis in a problematic ideal of power and effectiveness. A more positive view underlines competition’s universality and its indispensability in a market context. Four different ethical perspectives are used to assess economic competition. An ontological perspective legitimizes it based on its naturalness. Such a naturalistic argument is, however, much disputed, as is also the naturalness of competition. A teleological perspective supports competition through its ability to create incentives for production, creativity, and activity. Problematic consequences both of interpersonal and personal character, severe ecological consequences, and imbalanced distribution of means and power are on the negative side. A supportive deontological argument refers to equality and freedom as human rights. However, this use of rights is criticized: equality is mostly related to competitive presuppositions, freedom often comes out as constrained freedom and both can become means in an economic process. Justice and fairness seem not to be compatible with economic competition. Virtue ethics and the ethics of attitude represent new perspectives on competition: community orientation, cooperation, mutual acceptance, respect derived from justice as a virtue, sympathy, and righteousness. In this way, virtue ethics could develop economic competition positively, but also be a counterweight to the present competitive market economy.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and SocietyOsloNorway

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