Video Archive

My Dollar Does What? Consumerism and Ethics in the World Today

A symposium featuring Sarah Besky, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan Society of Fellows, José E. Martínez-Reyes, Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Lyn Tjon Soei Len, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Amsterdam.

This symposium, which is part of the "Ethics of Wealth" series, was held on April 23, 2014.


Why was charitable giving so ubiquitous among the early modern Ottomans?

by Leslie Peirce, Professor of History, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and Silver Professor, Princeton University.

Abstract: In asking why not just the wealthy but also many ordinary women and men provided charity, this talk focuses on the neighborhood as a matrix for inter-communal ties. It explores the neighborhood as administrative unit, legal collective, community of worship, and economic center. The last part of the talk discusses a large philanthropic foundation, emphasizing the ways giving by the rich can also enhance neighborhood welfare. 

This lecture, which is part of "The Ethics of Wealth" series, was delivered at the University of New Hampshire on February 26, 2015.


Christian Ethics of Wealth in the Early Byzantine Empire

by Daniel F. Caner, Associate Professor of History at the University of Connecticut

Abstract: During the early Byzantine period Christian thinkers developed a theory of philanthropic stewardship that distinguished between good wealth and bad wealth and provided a Christian rationale for social justice. This lecture explores how this theory gave rise to a spectrum of philanthropic practices designed to accomodate different religious needs and social priorities of the age.

This lecture, which is part of "The Ethics of Wealth" series, was delivered at the University of New Hampshire on February 16, 2015.


Destiny or Oppression? Early Christian Explanations for Poverty and Wealth in the Roman Empire

by Steven J. Friesen, Professor and Louise Farmer Boyer, Chair in Biblical Studies at the University of Texas at Austin

Abstract: Most people throughout history have lived near the level of subsistence, including the earliest Christians. When it comes to explaining economic inequality, however, early Christian texts display a surprising range of opinions.

This lecture, which is part of "The Ethics of Wealth" series, was delivered at the University of New Hampshire on December 9, 2014.


The Psychology of Greed: Ancient and Modern Reflections

The 2014 John C. Rouman Classical Lecture by Professor Ryan Balot of the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto.

This lecture, which is part of "The Ethics of Wealth" series, was delivered at the University of New Hampshire on October 15, 2014.

Abstract: This paper contrasts ancient and modern understandings of greed as an ethical, psychological, and political phenomenon.  Beginning with popular cinematic characters such as Gordon Gecko and Jordan Belfort, and traveling back to classical authors such as Homer, Herodotus, and Lucretius, it shows that “greed” is typically evaluated in two different, but not incompatible, ways: first, as a violation of moderation or self-control and, second, as a violation of distributive justice.  In order to encourage a broad historical perspective on greed, the paper sketches the “liberation” of acquisitiveness within market capitalism by examining the writings of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke.  Having brought to light the foundations of our own ways of viewing the politics and economics of greed, I argue that the most searching criticisms of this capitalistic model can be found in Lucretius and Plato – the one proposing that greed is rooted in existential fear, the other demonstrating that greed distorts and unsettles healthy psychological development.  I conclude by suggesting that acquisitiveness both spurs on economic growth and, especially in its unrestricted forms, leads to dangerous levels of inequality and alienation.  In such an ambiguous environment, it is critical to examine ourselves continually, in the manner of Socrates, in order both to enrich our judgments and to understand more precisely the ethical and political significance of our choices.

Bibliography for “The Psychology of Greed: Ancient and Modern Reflections”

  • Balot, Ryan K.  2001.  Greed and Injustice in Classical Athens. Princeton.
  • Hirschman, A.O.  1977.  The Passions and the Interests. Princeton.
  • Macpherson, C.B.  1962.  The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. Oxford.
  • Moss, Michael.  2014.  Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Random House.
  • Newell, W.R.  2013.  Tyranny: A New Interpretation. Cambridge.
  • Pangle, Thomas L.  1988.  The Spirit of Modern Republicanism: The Moral Vision of the American Founders and the Philosophy of Locke. Chicago.
  • Piketty, Thomas.  2014.  Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Belknap.
  • Sachs, Jeffrey.  2011.  The Price of Civilization: Economics and Ethics after the Fall. Vintage Canada.
  • Strauss, Leo. 1953.  Natural Right and History. Chicago.
  • Williams, Bernard.  1985.  Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.