The 2008 credit crisis is not only a crisis in economics, but also a crisis in the basic concepts and assumptions that underlie our thinking about economics, economics as a science. Critical analyses are called for of both economic practices and economic theory. New concepts and paradigms are needed. The first Kuyper Seminar Amsterdam aims at exploring what resources the Christian tradition has to offer for developing a sustainable and just economy of the future.
Book Note: “As If God Existed”
Maurizio Viroli. As if God Existed: Religion and Liberty in the History of Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.
Religion and liberty are often thought to be mutual enemies: if religion has a natural ally, it is authoritarianism–not republicanism or democracy. But in this book, Maurizio Viroli, a leading historian of republican political thought, challenges this conventional wisdom. He argues that political emancipation and the defense of political liberty have always required the self-sacrifice of people with religious sentiments and a religious devotion to liberty.
Check out this video, which is interesting on a number of levels (HT: James R. Otteson):
Hazony points to some really important ideas in this short video. In many ways the culture war, so to speak, really comes down to a clash of worldviews about what work is and ought to be. For a narrative that sets the problem up the same way, but favors the “Leavers” over the “Takers,” see the work of Daniel Quinn, particularly his novel Ishmael.
I’m looking forward to checking out Hazony’s book, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture.
Call for Papers: “Our Entrepreneurial Future: East, West, North, and South”
The Association of Private Enterprise Education Annual Conference, Maui, Hawaii, April 14 – 16, 2013. “Our Entrepreneurial Future: East, West, North, and South.” The Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE) invites the submission of papers for its 38th International Conference in Maui, Hawaii, April 14-16, 2013. The Association is composed of scholars from economics, philosophy, political science, and other disciplines, as well as policy analysts, business executives, and other educators. APEE’s annual meeting explores topics related to private enterprise in an atmosphere that respects market approaches. Presentations reflect the latest research in fields such as regulation, public choice, microeconomics, and Austrian economics, as well as development of instructional techniques. The submission fee for the society’s journal, The Journal of Private Enterprise, is waived for papers presented at the conference.
Article: “What is the Philosophy of Law?”
John Finnis, SSRN
The philosophy of law is not separate from but dependent upon ethics and political philosophy, which it extends by that attention to the past (of sources, constitutions, contracts, acquired rights, etc.) which is characteristic of juridical thought for reasons articulated by the philosophy of law. Positivism is legitimate only as a thesis of, or topic within, natural law theory, which adequately incorporates it but remains transparently engaged with the ethical and political issues and challenges both perennial and peculiar to this age. The paper concludes by proposing a task for legal philosophy, in light of the fact that legal systems are not simply sets of norms.
Book Note: “Markets and Growth in Early Modern Europe”
Victoria N. Bateman, Markets and Growth in Early Modern Europe
This is the first study to analyze a wide spread of price data to determine whether market development led to economic growth in the early modern period. Bateman compares agricultural data with less abundant information on cloth, candles and olive oil from numerous European cities. Using a range of economic measures applied to a larger set of goods, she shows that market development occurred earlier than was previously believed.
What was the intended purpose and function of the Bill of Rights? Is the modern understanding of the Bill of Rights the same as that which prevailed when the document was ratified? In Limited Government and the Bill of Rights, Patrick Garry addresses these questions. Under the popular modern view, the Bill of Rights focuses primarily on protecting individual autonomy interests, making it all about the individual. But in Garry’s novel approach, one that tries to address the criticisms of judicial activism that have resulted from the Supreme Court’s contemporary individual rights jurisprudence, the Bill of Rights is all about government—about limiting the power of government. In this respect, the Bill of Rights is consistent with the overall scheme of the original Constitution, insofar as it sought to define and limit the power of the newly created federal government.
Lectures: “Theology of Mission”
Edmund Clowney, Westminster Theological Seminary
These are 37 audio lectures from Edmund Clowney (1917-2005) of Westminster Theological Seminary from his course, “Theology of Mission,” within a broader biblical and historical study of mission and the “theology for the city.” This is one of the offerings from WTS made available via iTunesU.
Review Essay: “Was Robert Bellarmine Ahead of His Time?”
John M. Vella, Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Despite his rehabilitation in the last quarter of the 19th century, Bellarmine’s intellectual legacy remains mixed. In one respect, at least, he was a product of his time because his vision of a res publica Christiana depended on a united Christendom that could never be restored. Yet, what is easy to see, in hindsight, was not so clear in the early 17th century. On the other hand, his defiance of royal absolutism, in defense of rule of law and religious truth, is far from outdated.
Conference: “Sister Reformations II: Reformation and Ethics”
The Theological Faculty of the Humboldt University organizes a symposium on Sisterreformations II, Reformations and Ethics, September 13-15, 2012 in Berlin. In the light of the fruitful collaboration between Reformation historians trained in the German and Anglo-Saxon academic traditions during the 2009 Berlin symposium ‘Sister Reformations: The Reformation in Germany and in England’, a second gathering will now take place in 2012 to examine the theme ‘Reformation and Ethics’. For, although all parties in the Sixteenth Century accepted moral renovation as intrinsic to the Christian life, the exact place of ethics in this process, especially in relation to faith, was one of the most disputed points not only between the Reformers and their adversaries but also between the different strands of the Reformation itself. Consequently, this new symposium, jointly planned by the chairs of Reformation History in Berlin and Durham (UK), shall consider the principal ethical and theological questions involved as well as the actual moral decisions and patterns of behaviour associated with the English and German Reformations.
Lecture: “An Occasional Lecture: Capitalism and the Family”
Steven Horwitz, Institute of Economic Affairs
In this talk, Steven Horwitz will argue that the enhanced freedom with respect to family choices that has characterised the modern family and is celebrated by those on the political left, is largely a product of the economic system, market capitalism, which they often reject. At the same time, those on the right who are troubled by these changes in the family, including the demand for same-sex marriage, need to realise that such cultural changes are an inevitable by-product of the economic freedom they claim to celebrate. Steven will argue it is capitalism that is the main driver of the evolution of the western family and the wider array of family structures, which characterises the 21st century, representing an increased cultural freedom brought on by the freedom to engage in capitalist acts between consenting adults and the wealth it brings in its wake.
Book Note: “Theology and Public Philosophy”
Kenneth Grasso and Cecilia Rodriguez Castillo, eds., Theology and Public Philosophy: Four Conversations
This volume brings together eminent theologians, philosophers and political theorists to discuss the relevance of theology and theologically grounded moral reflection to contemporary America’s public life and argument. Avoiding the focus on hot-button issues, shrill polemics, and sloganeering that so often dominate discussions of religion and public life, the contributors address such subjects as how religious understandings have shaped the moral landscape of contemporary culture, the possible contributions of theologically-informed argument to contemporary public life, religious and moral discourse in a pluralistic society, and the proper relationship between religion and culture.
Book Note: “Reckoning With Markets”
James Halteman and Edd S. Noell, Reckoning With Markets: The Role of Moral Reflection in Economics
Undergraduate economics students begin and end their study of economics with the simple claim that economics is value free. Only in a policy role will values and beliefs enter into economic work; there can be little meaningful dialogue by economists about such personal views and opinions. This view, now well over 200 years old, has been challenged by heterodox thinkers in economics, and philosophers and social scientists outside the discipline all along the way. However, much of the debate in modern times has been narrowly focused on philosophical methodological issues on one hand or theological/sectarian concerns on the other. None of this filters down to the typical undergraduate even in advanced courses on the history of economic thought. This book presents the notion that economic thinking cannot escape value judgments at any level and that this understanding has been the dominant view throughout most of history. It shows how, from ancient times, people who thought about economic matters integrated moral reflection into their thinking. Reflecting on the Enlightenment and the birth of economics as a science, Halteman and Noell illustrate the process by which values and beliefs were excluded from economics proper. They also appraise the reader with relevant developments over the last half-century which offer promise of re-integrating moral reflection in economic research.
If you, or someone you know, are searching for last-minute scholarship opportunities, I invite you to please take the time to learn more about the scholarship programs offered through the Acton Institute.
Through the Calihan Academic Fellowship program, Acton’s Research department offers scholarships and research grants from $500 to $3000 to graduate students and seminarians studying theology, philosophy, economics, or related fields. Applicants must demonstrate the potential to advance understanding in the relationship between theology and the principles of the free and virtuous society. Such principles include recognition of human dignity, the importance of the rule of law, limited government, religious liberty, and freedom in economic life. Please visit the Calihan Academic Fellowship page on our website to download applications and obtain additional information about eligibility, conditions, the selection process, application requirements, and deadlines. In order to qualify for the upcoming deadline for the 2012 Fall Term, all application materials must be postmarked by July 15.
What is it like to engage the culture on a college campus through philosophy? Watch as Bruce McCluggage, Philosophy Instructor at Pike’s Peak Community College, shares firsthand what it is like to be On Call in the community college Culture as he interacts with students in the classroom, within philosophy club discussion groups and even at an atheist conference.
Watch as Bruce explains how philosophy presents an amazing opportunity to be . . .
The deadline to register for the 2012 Acton University conference is this Friday, May 18! This means that you have less than five days to visit university.acton.org to finish that application you started a few days ago.
If I were going to try to explain Acton University, I could say that attendees and faculty alike are professionals who are among the best in their respective fields. I could also say that the number and variety of resources brought to the event by everyone involved, whether directly or indirectly, is simply astounding. Or, I could explain that both of these elements help us to create an environment that cultivates your ability to articulate your understanding of the Judeo-Christian view of liberty and morality and its application in a free and virtuous society. Try as I might, though, none of this accurately describes the experience you’ll have at Acton University this summer. But remember: You only have until Friday to register so that you can find out for yourself!
On Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg addresses the “considerable fractures” that continue to divide conservative and libertarian positions on significant policy issues as well as on “deeper philosophical questions.” He pulls apart the “often tortuously drawn distinctions” surrounding the political labels and then offers some reasons why the “often unconscious but sometimes deliberate embrace of philosophical skepticism by some conservatives and libertarians should be challenged.”
Perceptive critics of skepticism have illustrated that the concern to be reasonable and avoid self-deception about reality is the starting point of any quest for philosophical truth: i.e., the very knowledge that skeptics believe we can’t know. What reason could skeptics therefore have for desiring to comprehend that, in the final analysis, all is unknowable, unless they are engaged in a quest for truth? In other words, skeptics draw their deduction that we should be philosophical skeptics from foundational assumptions they cannot doubt.
Also self-refuting is the common skeptic claim that reason is purely instrumental. For to defend this position, the skeptic’s reason necessarily engages in a non-instrumental task. He presumes it is good to know the truth of skepticism, and on grounds of reason rather than feelings. It is thus inconsistent for skeptics to assert that all philosophical viewpoints are arbitrary opinions. When skeptics posit that humans can only be motivated by sentiment rather than reason, they are not proposing this statement as their own impetuous preference. They claim to be making a rational judgment.
Read “Beyond Conservatism and Libertarianism” on Public Discourse by Samuel Gregg.
My ongoing reflection on the Hunger Games trilogy from Suzanne Collins continues with today’s Acton Commentary, “Bread First, Then Ethics.” This piece serves as a sort of follow-up to an earlier commentary, “Secular Scapegoats and ‘The Hunger Games,'” as well as an essay over at First Things I wrote with Todd Steen, “Hope in the Hunger Games.”
In this week’s commentary, I examine the dynamic of what might be understood to reflect Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as depicted in the Hunger Games (HT to Hunter Baker for his reference to Maslow). In general, “Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs.” Or more succinctly: bread first, then ethics.
This dynamic is captured nicely in a brief dialogue in the film between Katniss and Peeta. Peeta expresses his frustration at their situation: “I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show them that they don’t own me. If I’m gonna die, I wanna still be me.”
To this Katniss responds bluntly: “I just can’t afford to think like that.” Survival first, then she can worry about making ethical stands or moral gestures. Bread first, then ethics.
In today’s piece, I conclude that “the pagan answer to the question of hope focuses on bread first, and only afterwards (and perhaps never) on spiritual or moral matters.” The situation is a bit more complex than this, however. What we should understand by “first” in this sense is not necessarily temporal, but rather a priority of purpose or significance.
There’s a certain element of truth to something like Maslow’s hierarchy, even if one might quibble with the details. As Bertolt Brecht famously put it, “Erst kommt das Fressen / Dann kommt die Moral,” or “First comes eating, then comes morality.” A church teaching that ignores the physical needs of people, or only on the life to come, is truncated and flawed. Scot McKnight’s recent book The King Jesus Gospel makes this point quite well.
Indeed, as the Puritan Richard Baxter observed,
If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings, not as if we were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men; God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily sense to the soul.
So seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be added as well. Do not allow for material goods to become a distraction, or even an idol, that steals attention away from our focus on “pardon and spiritual blessings.” But don’t let our focus on “spirituality” become otherworldly and disembodied.
The gospel is good news for the whole person, body and soul. What God has joined together, let no one tear asunder.