Is Ethical Consumerism a Form of Vigilante Justice?



Waheed Hussain, University of Pennsylvania

Date and Time

March 11, 2011 1:15 PM - 3:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


Graham Stuart Lounge

FSI Contact

Kathleen Barcos

Ethical consumerism has been around for a long time—during the revolution, many Americans protested against the Stamp Act of 1756 by refusing to buy tea and other Brit- ish goods. In recent years, ethical consumerism has become an increasingly prominent feature of social life, as new forms of technology have allowed consumers to use their choices in the marketplace to address various environmental, labor and trade concerns.

Surprisingly, relatively little attention has been paid to the moral issues raised by ethical consumerism. Suppose that consumers are morally permitted to use their buying power to pressure companies to treat animals better or to reduce carbon emissions. Does this mean that they can also pressure pharmacies not to stock the “morning after” pill? Can they pressure Wal-Mart not to sell books or music that they find offensive? Even in cases where consumers are pressuring companies to do the right thing, do their actions amount to a kind of vigilante justice?

Waheed Hussain is an assistant professor in the Department of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. He has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard University and an A.B. in Philosophy from Princeton University. His main research interests lie in moral and political philosophy, particularly in those areas that bear on the morality of economic life.

One of his major research projects focuses on the philosophical debate about how best to understand the political concern for freedom. After formulating and defending an interpretation of this concern, he argues that the most attractive economic arrangements from the standpoint of freedom are those that extend democratic forms of decision making into economic life. An example of such an arrangement would be the codetermination system in Germany, which gives representatives of labor a significant role to play in economic decision making.

Other current projects include developing a more adequate understanding of the nature of personal autonomy and its significance in political contexts, examining the role of secondary associations in a capitalist democracy, formulating a moral contractualist account of the duties of corporations and their managers, and assessing the case for the corporation's right (and perhaps duty) to engage in civil disobedience.

At Wharton, Professor Hussain teaches Legal Studies 210, Corporate Responsibility and Ethics and Legal Studies 226, Markets, Morality and the Future of Capitalism, which is cross-listed in both the Philosophy Department at Penn and the Program in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

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