Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 13, No 1 (2017)

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Purposeless Technology and Chrematistic Pursuits: The Implicit Subordination of Homo Economicus

Andrew Trevor Kirkpatrick


The threat to livelihoods posed by the increased mechanization of labour has led to the question of whether new technologies will eventually render human beings obsolete. However, this immediately raises another more fundamental question: ’what is the function, or utility, of human beings in modern society?’ Mainstream economics and the concept of homo economicus tells us that human beings are little more than rationally calculating, profit maximizing machines devoted to the accumulation of capital. This paper will argue that the intellectual origins of homo economicus can be traced to the mechanical philosophies of Descartes, Hobbes, Locke and Newton, and that these philosophies find their expression in the political economy of Adam Smith. It will be shown that the mechanization of labour (along with the subsequent obsolescence of human beings) is a central tenet of classic liberalism, the ends of which is the unceasing increase of capital through the division of labour. In light of this, Ancient Greek conceptions of wealth and economic activity—which prioritize human self-creation and the notion of the good life—will be considered as alternatives to the norms presented in classic liberalism. Ultimately it is argued that in order to avoid being eclipsed by new technologies we must reconsider what it means to be human and in doing so rediscover properly human ends.

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