Written Assignments

Capitalism Debate


Web Resources for This Assignment

Adam Smith, The Division of Labor
This is the only material you can use to make your argument. Focus as closely as possible on the literal meaning of the text.

What is Capitalism?

   We think of capitalism as something natural, something that human beings are born with, but in fact, capitalism is a modern invention. It would not have been possible without certain Enlightenment notions, such as freedom, individuality, progress, and the mechanical world view. The most crucial component, however, is the concept of the individual. Not only does capitalism rely on new ideas of the individual, in practice and in theory it produces a new type of individual: the laborer and the consumer.

Is it a good thing?

   On this debate, I'd like you to explore the question of capitalism from the perspective of the individual and the changes that it wrought on our concepts of individuality. I don't want you to debate the facts of capitalism, but rather the theory of capitalism as it is embodied in Adam Smith's theories of the division of labor. I want you to examine Smith's discussion of the division of labor and explain what "individuality" means in his theoretical discussion. What is the nature of the individual? What is the value of the individual? What is the meaning or purpose of the individual? What is the relationship between the individual and production? You're going to use this discussion to make a value judgement: is this an adequate definition of the individual? Is there stuff left out?

Debate

   What an internet debate means is that you're going to take sides on this question. You've already been assigned to the sides that you're going to take: either you will argue that this is a positive development in the European concept of the individual or you will argue that it is a negative development. The only evidence that you can use in your argument is the literal meaning of Adam Smith's discussion. Not only will you be arguing your side of the question, you must also respond to answers from the other side of the question. That is, you must frame your response as a direct answer to someone else who has submitted an answer on the other side of the debate. If no such answer has yet been posted, you may simply develop your answer without responding.

Grading

   I'm going to be looking for three things: a.) do you have a clearly stated thesis? b.) how rigorously are you using Adam Smith's text? are you making up your answer or basing it as closely as possible on what is literally written down in Smith's discussion? c.) how thoroughly are you answering the other side? how much of another student's opposing argument are you developing in your own answer?

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