Just price theory: a reassessment
Reyes Barros, Joaquín
The main aim of this thesis is to provide a reassessment of the age-old idea that there is a just price of things. It does so by endorsing a virtue-based approach to price justification, one that is both value pluralist and context-sensitive. A virtue-based approach to price justification offers a way of dealing with the set of questions posed by the idea of the just price which is neither a rejection of their meaningfulness (what I call ‘just price scepticism’) nor a complete endorsement of the old ‘Scholastic doctrine’ of the just price based on keeping equality of value in exchange—or, as medieval Scholastics would call it, ‘commutative justice’. The proposed approach involves the development of different conceptions of the just price based on different values—efficiency, distributive egalitarianism, autonomy-as-nonalienation, autonomy-as-sovereignty—and the incorporation of those conceptions into a wider normative framework that allows us to identify certain values as more normatively significant in some contexts than in others. When a price manifests one or more of the aforementioned values and it is perceived within the appropriate context—that is, in a context in which those values are normatively significant—then the price so perceived is called just. This understanding of justice in pricing entails the recognition that the reasons justifying prices need not be justice-based reasons, and that the medieval search for the just price is, in fact, a search for equality that is not exhausted by the equality between goods exchanged required by commutative justice. The thesis aims to find a place for just price theory in contemporary legal and political philosophy. If the arguments presented in the thesis are correct, then just price theory is still relevant for the law and we have no good reasons for dismissing the questions about just prices posed by medieval Scholastics. Moreover, I argue that it is possible to incorporate typically modern concerns over efficiency, distributive justice, and autonomy into a theory of the just price, and that the adoption of a pluralist and context-sensitive normative framework allows us to keep the insights from different conceptions of the just price while, at the same time, rescuing the deeper meaning of the medieval search for equality in exchange, namely, the search for substantive equality as a condition for treating each other as equals in exchange.
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