Edited by Kleio Akrivou and Alejo José G Sison
Chapter 1: The merchant and the common good: social paradigms and the state’s influence in Western history
This chapter tries to develop the idea that merchant’s ethics – or professional behaviour – depended on social paradigms and that changes in those paradigms depended heavily on the influence of royal or state power. In theory and in earlier (historic) social practice, the common good was always understood through an ethical prism, including care for others: benevolence (bene volere, to want the good for the other). In the feudal economy the concept of community appears as relatedness, a pre-legal definition. Subsequently there was a balanced tripartite structure (royal state; intellectuals/nobility; church/spiritual leadership), and being in community was defined as an interaction of these social institutions. At that time individuals simply had to accept the social role assigned to them in relation to their community and other groups. Under capitalism, on the other hand, the idea of community is defined chiefly by the state embodying the whole social structure, and the task of each individual can be reduced to seeking one’s own best interest, albeit obeying the king and being seen favourably by the royals. Further, since Adam Smith, the merchant’s ethic of private self-interest has been understood as being opposed to benevolence and outside the social context of relatedness, while it was about being self-sufficient. The difference, therefore, is great.