St. Olaf College | News

Philosophy professor receives NEH ‘Enduring Questions’ grant

St. Olaf College Assistant Professor of Philosophy Mike Fuerstein poses for a photo on the quad outside Buntrock Commons.St. Olaf College Assistant Professor of Philosophy Mike Fuerstein has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Enduring Questions grant to fund a course centered on the question “What is value in the marketplace?”

The course, which will be offered for the first time in the fall of 2017, will explore the complex intersection between economic value and moral value in the exchange of goods and services. Drawing on texts from economics and philosophy, it will trace and assess the connection between these two ways of valuing, from the ancient world to modern stock markets to bitcoins.

The Enduring Questions grant program supports the development of courses that foster deep and sustained engagement with fundamental concerns of human life. These courses encourage faculty members and undergraduate students to explore such enduring questions through encounter with influential ideas, works, and thinkers across the centuries.

The questions that Fuerstein’s course will push students to ponder include those ranging from “What makes a price fair?” to “What is priceless?”

Fuerstein’s interest in developing this course arose from his participation in an interdisciplinary group of social philosophers, economists, and business executives called the Society for Progress. “The primary aim of the group is to rethink the theory and practice of business in a way that better aligns profit with social progress,” Fuerstein explains.

In the case of market values, “public discussion tends to be dominated by polarizing, unreflective ideologies that mask the true significance and complexity of what is at stake,” says Fuerstein.

According to Fuerstein, market values are simultaneously the solution to and the source of many of the world’s greatest challenges today. For example, market efficiency and market freedom can raise the standard of living for people around the world while at the same time threatening local cultures and engendering global inequality.

“This course aims to give students a basis for critically discussing and investigating these ideas, which at present figure in so many pressing political, social, and personal decisions,” Fuerstein says.