Posts tagged with: Social philosophy

Brooks-2x1500We continue to see the expansion of freedom and the economic prosperity around the world. And yet, despite having enjoyed such freedom and its fruits for centuries, the West is stuck in a crisis of moral imagination.

For all of its blessings, modernity has led many of us to pair our comfort and prosperity with a secular, naturalistic ethos, relishing in our own strength and designs and trusting in the power of reason to drive our ethics.

The result is a uniquely moralistic moral vacuum, a “liberal paradox,” as Gaylen Byker calls it — “a hunger for meaning and values in an age of freedom and plenty.”

In the past, American prosperity has been buoyed by the strength of its institutions: religious, civil, political, economic, and otherwise. But as writers such as Yuval Levin and Charles Murray have aptly outlined, the religious and institutional vibrancy that Alexis de Tocqueville once hailed appears to be dwindling, making the space between individual and state increasingly thin.

The revival and restoration of religious and civic life is essential if we hope to cultivate a free and virtuous society, occurring across spheres and sectors, from the family to business, from the church to political institutions.

Given the increasing attacks on religious liberty, Christian colleges and universities are standing particularly tall, even as they endure some of the highest heat. In a recent talk for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, David Brooks demonstrates the cultural importance of retaining that liberty, explaining how his recent experiences with Christian educational institutions have affirmed their role in weaving (or re-weaving) the fabric of American life. (Read his full remarks here.) (more…)

On Thursday, June 16th, it was a great pleasure to welcome William B. Allen – Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy and Emeritus Dean of James Madison College at Michigan State University – as a plenary speaker at Acton University 2016, to deliver an address entitled “A Moral Surprise: The Common Foundation of Christianity and Modern Politics.” Allen used his address to argue that true political freedom requires freedom of conscience as its foundation – a freedom of conscience that cannot itself be the product of political freedom, but is rather a divinely ordained gift. You can view his presentation below; Allen has also graciously provided the text of his presentation as well, which you can download here. And after the jump, I’ve included the video of Allen’s 2014 Acton Lecture Series presentation, which he references during his speech.

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JMM_19 1Our most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 19, no. 1, has now been published online and print issues are in the mail.

In addition to our regular slate of articles examining the intersections between faith, freedom, markets, and morality, this issue contains a new entry in our Scholia special feature section: “Advice to a Desolate France” by Sebastian Castellio. Writing in 1562, Castellio was one of the first early modern defenders of freedom of religion on the basis of freedom of conscience, in the midst of a turbulent time of conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants in sixteenth-century France. His insights should still be valuable today, both to scholars and others who value that same freedom.

As is our usual custom, this issue’s editorial, “Self-Interest and Moral Contexts,” is open access. In it, I examine the necessity of context for determining the morality of the choices of market actors:

The economic idea of self-interest as the driving motivator of economic (and other) behavior is as widely accepted by economists as it is criticized by others. The critics, generally, object to the assumption that “widespread and/or persistent human behavior can be explained by a generalized calculus of utility-maximizing behavior,” to quote George Stigler and Gary Becker. Is not that selfishness? And is not selfishness immoral? And do not people, at least sometimes, act morally? Furthermore, should not they be encouraged to act altruistically instead of only thinking of their own interests?

In reality, context complicates such moralisms.

The full editorial can be read and downloaded here.

Read the entire issue here.

Subscription instructions to access all of our content can be found here.

One of the most common criticisms of capitalism is that the system exploits workers. It’s an old claim (dating back to at least Karl Marx). But is it true?

Philosopher Matt Zwolinski argues that even if individual capitalists want to exploit workers the free market tends to prevent them from doing so. However, government interference in labor markets does allow some parties to gain at someone else’s expense.

In an era where socialism is (inexplicably) once again in vogue, we should ask, “What would life be like in a world without capitalism?”

The Fund for American Studies has produced a superb It’s a Wonderful Life-style video that not only shows what life would be like if we banned free enterprise (i.e., a lot like Soviet Russia) but also makes the point that when you lose economic freedom you lose other freedoms too. As the angel says, “When you take away the carrot, all you’re left with is the stick.

My favorite part of the video:

Anti-capitalist activist: “I just wanted to get rid of the greed. I didn’t want to get rid of my microwave, my air-conditioner. . . ”

Angel: “Your Xbox.”

Activist: “My Xbox is gone?”

Angel: “Yeah, well, in this world that greedy Bill Gates work in a bowling ball factory in Akron. Lose-win, right?”

millenials-phonesA recent national survey by the Harvard Institute of Politics finds that a majority of Millennials (18- to 29-year olds) do not support capitalism as a political theory. One-third of them, however, do support socialism.

As a rule, I try not to put too much stock in such surveys because opinion polls make us dumb. But it’s become obvious that a significant portion of younger American are truly so under-educated that they truly believe socialism is preferable to capitalism.

Perhaps the problem is merely one of language. The reality is that the most ardent “capitalists” don’t like “capitalism” either.

Capitalism is merely an economic system in which the modes and means of production are mostly or entirely privately owned. That’s a rather broad categorization that includes such systems as corporatism, crony capitalism, social democracy, state capitalism, and welfare capitalism. Even those of us who can be described as “capitalists” would reject most of the other forms of capitalism we don’t like. (Which is why we tend to dislike the  unhelpful word “capitalism.”)

What many of us (I’m tempted to say true capitalists) prefer is not an amorphous capitalism, but an economic system that is outgrowth of the natural order of liberty: a free economy. There’s no agreed upon term for the system of a free economy (which is why capitalism is often used as a substitute) but it includes free people engaging in free enterprise in free markets. A free economy is not a laissez-faire, each-to-his-own system of consumerism. It’s a system in which people are allowed to use their resources and abilities most effectively to serve others.

My naïve hope is that if more Millennials understood that capitalism is mostly used as a derogatory term free enterprise and economic liberty, they’d realize that they really do support it after all. But in case they aren’t convinced here are five reasons why you, young Millennial reader, should support capitalism:
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conscience-angel-devilA new Pew Research survey finds that the majority of American Catholics  (73 percent) say they rely “a great deal” on their own conscience when facing difficult moral problems. Conscience was turned to more often than the three other sources — Catholic Church’s teachings (21 percent), the Bible (15 percent) or the pope (11 percent) — combined.

While it never really went away, conscience is making a comeback among Christians.

Over the past few years, the term conscience has been increasingly referenced in debates occurring both in our churches (e.g., appeals to conscience on moral issues) and the public square (e.g., defending the right of conscience). This is a welcome resurgence, since formation and promotion of Christian conscience is particular important to our primary mission at Acton of articulating a “vision of society that is both free and virtuous, the end of which is human flourishing.

We hear a lot about conscience, but what exactly does it mean? The general concept of conscience can be found in almost every human culture, but it has a unique and distinctive meaning for Christians. The Greek term for conscience (suneidesis) occurs more than two dozen times in the Bible, and serves an important concept, particularly in the Pauline epistles. If we examine the way Scripture talks about conscience we uncover five general themes:
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