Posts tagged with: philosophy

In a recent article for The Telegraph, Sir Roger Scruton discusses the importance of national borders in Europe and the threat that the EU poses to them.  He explains how religion once united Europe but since religion began to fade in the 17th century, territory took over as the principle that Europeans turn to in order to find unity.  Scruton says this:

European civilisation has been steadily replacing religion with territory as the source of political unity. The process began in the 17th century, as the call for popular sovereignty and national unity began to be heard above the noise of religious conflict.  Following the French Revolution and Napoleon’s failed attempt at a pan-European Empire, Europe emerged as a collection of nation states.

Scruton goes on to talk about how national identity contributed to the outcome of the Second World War: (more…)

EdmundBurkeAdvocates of economic freedom have a peculiar habit of only promoting the merits of the free markets as they relate to innovation, poverty alleviation, and economic transformation. In response, critics are quick to lament a range of “disruptive” side effects, whether on local communities or human well-being.

Alas, in over-elevating the fruits of material welfare, we forget that such freedom is just as important as a restraint against the social dangers of an intrusive state as it is an accelerant to economic progress. If our concern is not just for economic prosperity, but for the wider flourishing of individuals and communities – social, spiritual, and otherwise – economic freedom has a role to play there, too.

As I’ve noted before, Edmund Burke builds the best bridge on this topic, offering a robust vision of liberty that connects these dots accordingly. In a new essay on Burke’s “economics of flourishing,” Yuval Levin highlights those very views, noting that, although his economic solutions were similar to those of his friend and contemporary, Adam Smith, Burke’s conclusions were more closely tied to a deeper commitment to human flourishing.

This begins with Burke’s view of liberty, which rejected any notion of radical individualism or choice as a good unto itself. As Levin explains, Burke “was moved to articulate his vision of human liberty precisely in opposition to a highly individualist, choice-centered understanding of what freedom entails and enables.” Or, as Burke himself puts it, true liberty “is not solitary, unconnected, individual, selfish liberty, as if every man was to regulate the whole of his conduct by his own will” but “social freedom” – “another name for justice; ascertained by wise laws, and secured by well-constructed institutions.” (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Friday, November 11, 2016
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Edward Feser, with a nod to Thomas Aquinas, discusses whether there might be such a thing as virtuous Schadenfreude. As Feser puts it, “On the one hand, the suffering of a person is not as such something to rejoice in, for suffering, considered just by itself, is an evil…. However, there can be something ‘annexed’ to the suffering which is a cause for rejoicing.”

My collaborator and friend Victor Claar and I ran up against something like this in our engagement with Thomas on the topic of envy, and Thomas’ treatment of these questions should be read as an annex to the part of the Summa that Feser looks at. Envy is defined, following Aristotle, as grief or sadness or sorrow at the good of another. When you take the responses of grief and joy to another’s good or ill, you can plot them into four possibilities: joy at another’s good, joy at another’s ill, grief at another’s good, and grief at another’s ill.

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Envy and Schadenfreude are linked because they are opposite reactions to the evil or good of another. The envious person is the kind of person who will rejoice in the ills suffered by another, and vice versa.

And just as Thomas cautions against joy at the suffering of another because suffering in itself is evil, so too does he caution against grieving at the good of another, even as he leaves open the possibility of what might be called “righteous indignation” at the unjust or undeserved goods enjoyed by an evil person. In this case, Thomas warns against such feelings, because it really is only up to God to judge what someone really and truly deserves, and, in fact, something might be “annexed” to that good that makes it turn out to be even worse for that person.

For more on envy in relationship to economics, check out: Jordan J. Ballor and Victor V. Claar, “Envy in the Market Economy: Sin, Fairness, and Spontaneous (Dis)Order,” Faith & Economics 61/62 (Spring/Fall 2013) 33-54.

Victor has also spoken on envy in numerous venues for Acton, including Acton University. Here’s a link to a talk from a number of years back.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, November 3, 2016
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Hand drawing unhappy and happy smileys on blackboardHuman knowledge and culture have exploded so thoroughly in diversity and specialization, especially in the Modern period, that few universals or unifying themes remain, says Jonathan T. Pennington. But one idea or theme that can still be identified as universal is human flourishing:

Human flourishing alone is the idea that encompasses all human activity and goals because there is happiness. These are not merely cultural values or the desire of a certain people or time period. The desire for human flourishing motivates everything humans do. All human behavior, when analyzed deeply enough, will be found to be motivated by the desire for life and flourishing, individually and corporately.

The Bible speaks to the issue of human flourishing in very significant ways. But this is not unique among ancient or current philosophies, religions or worldviews.

What is unique, and what is revelational and authoritative for the Christian, is that Holy Scripture understands human flourishing to be a function of God’s redemptive work in the world, the very core of his relation toward his creatures. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God is at work redeeming his broken, sinful and rebellious creatures. From the promise of redemption in Genesis 3:15 through the climactic vision at the end of the book of Revelation, God reveals himself to be actively and graciously redeeming his people, saving them from oppression, forgiving their disobedience and dishonoring acts, and leading them into a time and place of his full presence.

Read more . . .

Pope Francis' trip to the US

“Supporting markets as the economic arrangements most likely to help promote human flourishing doesn’t necessarily mean you accept libertarian philosophical premises” says Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg in an essay published today at Public Discourse.  This comes in response to “Koch Brothers Latest Target: Pope Francis,” an Oct. 14  article written by John Gehring at the American Prospect that claims the Acton Institute is part of a larger network of organizations behind “a decidedly different message than Pope Francis does when it comes to the economy and climate change.”  Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, labels various free-market organizations as “libertarian” and asserts that “libertarian thought … is the exact opposite of Catholic teaching.”

Gregg begins his response by noting some of the contributions that great libertarian thinkers such as Hayek and Mises have made to economics:

Libertarianism’s great strength lies in economics. Prominent twentieth-century libertarian economists, such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek, made major contributions to the critique of socialist economics. While ridiculed by some at the time, their criticisms turned out to be spot-on.

In Socialism (1922), for example, Mises illustrated that socialist economies can’t replicate the market price system’s ability to signal the supply and demand status for countless goods and services to consumers and producers at any one point in time. However intelligent and statistically equipped the top-down planners might be (whether they take the form of a Communist politburo, a Fascist dictator, or a 1970s British government), they simply cannot know the optimal price for any good or service at any point in time. Any attempt to dictate prices from the top-down will lead, paradoxically, to economic disorder and dysfunction.

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Clive Staples LewisC.S. Lewis wrote much about the tension between self-interest and selfishness, offering renewed clarity on these topics, says Art Lindsley. To Lewis, there is a huge difference between self-interest and selfishness, and there is a proper place for self-interest in our lives:

When Lewis first came to faith, he did not think about eternal life, but focused on enjoying God in this life. Lewis later said that the years he spent without the focus on heavenly rewards “always seem to me to have been of great value” because they taught delight in God above any prospect or reward. It would be wrong to desire from God solely what he could give you, without delighting in God himself.

Lewis never disparaged the place of heavenly rewards, but he saw that the paradox of reward might be a stumbling block for some. On the one hand, the purest faith in God believes in him for “nothing” and is not primarily interested in any benefits to follow. On the other hand, the concept that we are rewarded for what we do is taught in numerous biblical passages and presumably is a positive motivation for doing what is good.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
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Athenebrunnen-Stuttgart Athene+ZeusOver at the Gospel Coalition last week I reviewed Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. As I conclude, “The story he tells is true, but at some points only half-true. The half-truth is still valuable, though, if for no other reason than that it runs so counter to much contemporary self-understanding. Siedentop’s interpretation helpfully casts doubt on the dominant narrative of secularism’s emergence from the oppressive claims of God and religion.”

One way of understanding the half-truth of Siedentop’s narrative is that he is right to point out the Christian roots of liberty and liberalism in the modern West, but incorrect in his understanding of Christianity and Christian liberalism. There is more than one kind of liberalism, and some of them end up in not liberty but tyranny.

Confusions abound, and much of our understanding turns on proper definitions. Take, for instance, the word liberalism. For many, this conjures up images of secular, progressive politicians and ideologues. While this may be the dominant contemporary political identification, there is also a classical understanding of liberalism that is worthy of engagement. And in the religious realm, liberalism has yet different meanings, such that J. Gresham Machen’s classic work Christianity and Liberalism would identify in the following way: “the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted innaturalism–that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.”

In this way our understanding of the relationship between Christianity and liberty, whether in historical or normative terms, will depend upon our definitions. And as Machen would have it, proper definitions are a laudable, if controversial, place to start: “Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding.”

For more on the relationship between Christianity and liberty, see Sam Gregg’s review essay, “How Christianity Created the Free Society.”