The development of liberal moral philosophy is co-extensive with the development of liberal society out of the rigidly stratified feudal world that preceded it. From the perspective of materialist ethics the relevant feature of this social transformation is the separation it imposed between human beings, the life-sustaining resources of the land, and one another. Society was no longer conceived of as an organic totality organised by an over-arching conception of the good. Modernisation discredited substantive universal

conceptions of the good and led to the articulation of society into distinct spheres. Most relevant for our purposes are the political-legal system, the economic system and the moral-personal sphere. The moment of universality is divided between the political-legal, in which citizens are to recognise one another through the law as members in a collective enterprise, and the moralpersonal, in which the rationally reflective and formally free individual is to discover some set of formal principles that regulate self-interest. It is assumed that there is no ethical conflict between the universality of the political-legal and moral-personal spheres and the economy, because the economy purports to be ‘an ethically neutralized system of action’ (Habermas 1989:178). Capitalist economic relations are assumed to be the natural outgrowth of selfinterest and ethically indifferent provided the ground rules that govern them are fair. The consequences for the life-horizons of people subjected to these economic relations, measured by their level of need satisfaction and the range of capacity realisation, are not the focus of classical liberal ethical concern.