Matthew Scott Johnson

“Does what we buy represent who we are?”

— 2018 question.

Look at any group of Americans and you’ll see brand names on people’s sweatshirts. From clothing shops like Abercrombie & Fitch to sports teams like the Minnesota Vikings, people use clothing to communicate their loyalties. The same is true of electronics. Ask people if they are an iPhone or an Android person, or if they have a Mac or PC, and someone is going to take issue with their choice. Why is this? What is it about brand loyalties that advertise someone’s personality and is it a good thing that we see people in terms of their purchases? Does it promote a healthy community? Does economic preference accurately reflect the human experience? What is the relationship between human identity and human action? Does the marketplace falsely equate economic choice with human freedom?

This essay should answer the question from a philosophical perspective. It should explore the themes mentioned above, including identity, freedom, choice, and what it means to live in a free-market society. It should address social expectations, what it means to “fit in,” and what it means to be “cool,” among other themes the author chooses to highlight. It can incorporate concepts from sociology, psychology, folklore, marketing, and of courses economics. However, it must remain first and foremost a philosophical discussion, and one written for a general audience, not one written for a class or a teacher. This means that referring to specific philosophers and schools of thought is encouraged, but all of their ideas and references must be presented in lay language. Quotes should not be excessive. We are interested in their ideas, not the text themselves. Also, make sure the conclusion answers the question directly in the form of “What we buy does represent who we are because…” or “What we buy does not represent who we are because…” It should be clear to the reader. (Please note: you will not be evaluated on what position you take. All conclusions have equal opportunity to win; IPPL is non-partisan and non-ideological.)


Click here to return to the Eliot Glassheim Essay Contest information page.

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