Capitalism and its Critics

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 03 October 2019
Saturday 14 December 2019
25 July 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for


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:

• 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.

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

There will be a one-hour lecture each week followed by a one-hour discussion seminar at which issues covered in the lecture will be discussed. In addition one hour a week be devoted to group presentations and pre-arranged debates. Week 8 is Reading Week.


  • Friedman, Milton. (2002) Capitalism and Freedom, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Marx, Karl. (2000) Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1843/44) -- Selections: from “Alienated Labour” to “Private Property and Communism”, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.85-104
  • Friedman, Milton; Friedman, Rose D. (1962) Capitalism and freedom, London: University of Chicago Press.
  • Streeck, Wolfgang. (2011) 'The Crises of Democratic Capitalism', in New Left Review. vol. 71, pp.1-25
  • Fraser, Nancy. (2013) 'Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History', in Fortunes of feminism: from state-managed capitalism to neoliberal crisis, Brooklyn, NY: Verso.
  • Marx, Karl. (no date) 'The Absurdity of Speaking of Wages as an Advance by the Capitalist to the Labourer. Bourgeois Conception of Profit as Reward for Risk', in Theories of Surplus Value.
  • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Fredrich. (1991) 'System of Need' in "Elements of the Philosophy of Right" [1821], Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., pp.227-239
  • 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
  • Cohen, G. A. (2009) Why Not Socialism?, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

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 Presentation 25%
Coursework Participation 5%
Coursework Essay Plan 12/12/2019 20%
Coursework 3000 Word Essay 14/01/2020 50%

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Professor Fabian Freyenhagen



External examiner

Dr Thomas Joseph Stern
University College London
Senior Lecturer
Available via Moodle
Of 36 hours, 36 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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