Capitalism and its Critics

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 07 October 2021
Friday 17 December 2021
29 September 2021


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA VV20 Philosophy with Business Management,
BA VV21 Philosophy with Business Management (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV22 Philosophy with Business Management (Including Placement Year),
BA VV23 Philosophy with Business Management (Including Year Abroad)

Module description

In recent years, and especially since the financial crisis of 2008, the social consequences, moral acceptability, and even the long-term viability of capitalism have come under renewed scrutiny.

Is capitalism the best way of organizing the economic life of society, so as to secure individual freedom and economic prosperity? Or does it lead to the pillaging of nature and exploitation of human beings, socially damaging levels of inequality, and the morally regrettable transformation of everything of value into a commodity for sale? And if it does lead to fundamental problems, can it be reformed or do we need a non-capitalist economy (and what would that be)?

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

Module aims

No information available.

Module learning outcomes

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

1. explain the main theories, models and concepts applied in the analysis and critique of capitalism;
2. summarise normative debates about capitalism, and its dominant contemporary form, neo-liberalism;
3. 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:

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

Module information

Incoming Study Abroad students must have already taken an introductory module in Philosophy or Political Theory at their home institution.

Learning and teaching methods

Each week, there will be a 1 two-hour seminar with the whole group, divided between a lecture and group presentations, and 1 separate one-hour classes in smaller groups in which selected texts and themes will be discussed in more depth. All teaching events will be accessible to students on and off campus either face-to-face or remotely through online teaching. Week 8 is Reading Week.


  • Anderson, Elizabeth. (1990-10) 'The Ethical Limitations of the Market', in Economics and Philosophy. vol. 6 (2) , pp.179-205
  • Heath, Joseph. (2014-01-01) Efficiency as the Implicit Morality of the Market: Oxford University Press, USA., pp.173-204
  • Marx, Karl. (2000) 'Selections from Capital (Volume 1)', in Selected writings, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.482-513
  • Marx, Karl. (2000) Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1843/44), Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.85-104
  • Smith, Adam. (2008) An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations: a selected edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press. vol. Oxford world's classics
  • Friedman, Milton. (2002) Capitalism and Freedom, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  • de Bruin, Boudewijn. (2019-10-4) 'Epistemic Injustice in Finance', in Topoi.
  • Marx, Karl. (2000) 'On James Mill (1843)', in Karl Marx: Selected Writings, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.124-133
  • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Fredrich. (1991) Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., pp.227-239
  • F. A. Hayek. (1945) 'The Use of Knowledge in Society', in The American Economic Review: American Economic Association. vol. 35 (4) , pp.519-
  • Fraser, Nancy. (2014) Behind Marx's Hidden Abode, New Left Review 76 (2014), pp. 55-72.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Group Presentations     25% 
Coursework   Essay plan   14/12/2021  25% 
Coursework   Essay (2000 words)   14/01/2022  50% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Fabian Freyenhagen, email:



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 45 hours, 33 (73.3%) hours available to students:
12 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information

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