Friday, January 26, 2007

Buying Virtuously

Ladybug, of Two Hungry Souls, posted the following question after she purchased a Kitchenaid 750 food processor for only $85: Is buying something so good for so much less than it is worth the act of a properly virtuous person?

Here's what I wrote in the comments of her blog.

It seems like the relevant virtue is the one concerning wealth, namely, generosity (the two vices are miserliness and prodigality). For, as the Philosopher says, "the person who will use wealth best is the one who has the virtue that is connected with money, and this is the generous person" (EN 4.1). He also says, "Actions in accord with virtue are beautiful [kalai] and are for the sake of the beautiful [kalou]; the generous person, then, will give for the sake of the beautiful, and in the right way, for it goes along with right giving that it be to whom and as much as and when one ought. . . . And it involves doing these things with pleasure, or without pain, for what comes from virtue is pleasant, or painless -- least of all things is it painful. But one who gives to whom one ought not, or not for the sake of the beautiful but for some other reason, would not be called generous but some other name." Lastly, he says, "it is most definitely characteristic of a generous person to go to excess in the giving, so that less is left for himself, for not looking out for oneself is part of being generous."

Now, it seems that the Philosopher would say this about bargain hunting: If you are spending money for the sake of the beautiful, that's an indication of your being generous. The more money you spend on the beautiful indicates a deeper generosity. This is where Aristotle's admission that whether or not you are completely virtuous is not entirely up to your will. For example, a person who is wealthier than you will be able to exercise the virtue of generosity more than you. But it seems you can still be generous, though perhaps not as often since you must also exercise prudence in ways a wealthy person does not.

Whether or not you are being unjust to the laborer who produced your Kitchenaid 750 depends on whether he has a claim on you for repayment. But it seems he does not, at least in the case of a corporation like Kitchenaid since the laborer is paid by the owner/manager of Kitchenaid. The laborer is not contracting with the customer; the laborer is contracting with the owner.

So the question is whether you own the owner anything. And it seems not, since the owner is willing to sell to you (or another middleman) for a low price.