Module Outline (updated 02.09.2020)

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the social consequences, moral status, and even long-term viability of capitalism have come under renewed scrutiny. Does it foster economic growth and protect individual freedom, as its proponents claim? Or is it a destructive system out of control, as its detractors argue?  Should the market be given even freer rein?  Or should capitalism be reformed and restricted?  Or should it be abolished and replaced altogether? And, if so, what would replace it? 

In this module, we will explore the arguments of both defenders and critics of capitalism. We will study a range of texts, both historical (such as Adam Smith, G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Karl Polanyi) and contemporary (such as Nancy Fraser, Liza Herzog, Debra Satz, Elizabeth Anderson, and Wolfgang Streeck).

Module Aims

The aims of the module are:

  1. to develop a familiarity with some of the major figures and themes discussed in the module;
  2. to undertake a close assessment of selected classics on capitalism or its critique;
  3. to gain a precise understanding of at least one major theme or problem covered in the module;
  4. to develop the ability to critically analyse writings in social and political philosophy, and to produce argumentatively precise and robust critical analysis.

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • explain the main theories, models and concepts applied in the analysis and critique of capitalism;
  • summarise normative debates about capitalism, and its dominant contemporary form, neo-liberalism;
  • explain and critically assess the arguments made by advocates and critics of capitalism.

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

  • define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
  • seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
  • process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
  • compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
  • write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments and their presuppositions and implications;
  • be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
  • think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;
  • maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;
  • think critically and constructively.