Oekonomika

Today sees the opening of the opening of the “Oekonomika” Institute in Vienna: a think-tank on applied economics and political philosophy that takes the Aristotelian tradition and Catholic Social Teaching  seriously. I’ve mentioned these people over on Modestinus’ blog. Here’s a snip from one of their statements:

In contrast to the contemporary tendency to make the economy an end in itself, the tradition of the Christian West includes the “art of household-management” (along with ethics and politics) in practical philosophy. Economic agents are not merely driven about by blind economic “laws” such as “supply and demand,” but able, through the practice of virtue, to act in accordance with truly human ends in the economic sphere.

Economics has a subordinate role in relation to ethics and politics. It is therefore necessary for a true understanding of the proper measure in economic matters to concern oneself with virtuous action and the goals of political life. For the existence of human institutions ought only to be justified by their supporting the common good and assisting human persons in the quest for a happy life.

18 thoughts on “Oekonomika

  1. “For the existence of human institutions ought only to be justified by their supporting the common good and assisting human persons in the quest for a happy life.”

    Sounds very pretty, and and exactly how I write my business proposals, with a few slight variations. As in making them happy in order to justify my fee. And supporting the common good insofar as it extends to their business in order to justify my fee. Because when push comes to shove they will have to do the same when the customers come through their door.

    To even mention the common good in the same sentence with practical is just plain silly.

    Like

      • Your links are not in a language I can read.

        Sancrucensis writes : “Why? Isn’t the good the end of all practice?”

        A good , but not the common good, because it simply is not the way business is conducted.

        The error that’s made in the article you cite is the exclusivity of it, to wit : “the existence of human institutions ought only to be justified by their supporting the common good”.

        It’s one thing to say that we should shop for groceries, or what have you, with an eye to the common good, it’s quite another to say that my purchases out only to be justified by their support of the common good.

        Let me take purchasing eggs as an example. I may purchase organic range free eggs for the good of my family and for the good of the environment and so forth, but the carton I choose will be the least expensive of the choices available. Does my choice have to be justified by what the workers who produce those eggs earn, or can I simply purchase according to supply and demand the least expensive?

        The exclusivity of the article says that my choice ought only be justified by also taking into account the wages paid through my purchase, but it’s highly questionable that I have a duty to purchase only those products that do pay a living wage when given the choice.

        Further, when I sell my services to a client, what matters to my client is what I can do for him. And if its a tenant finish for a retail store, my client will in turn have to justify his product to his customers, and that justification will perhaps touch on the common good, but as a practical matter very little of the transaction will be according to the common good.

        What I do is I make myself very valuable to my clients so that not only will I earn a living wage, but my clients will want to pay me a living wage versus hiring some other architect they can have for significantly less. That is the nature of business. “What can you do for me?”. “Why should I buy this book?” “Why should I buy this garment?” “Why should I buy these tires?”

        Or in regards the Oekonomika institute : “Why should I fund the Oekonomika institute?” What the Oekonomiika is selling is pious prattle, which is by the way a very marketable product.

        What is sold in each instance is price, product, and service, and it’s pious prattle to say that when shopping for tires I need concern myself with more than how these tires will serve my need.

        Like

        • I’m not sure there is really a disagreement here. Oekonomika is not claiming that the common good has to be the proximate end of every human action, but rather that no human institution can be justified that is not ordered to the common good. Sure, the proximate end of a given action can be some useful good, but the pursuit of useful goods must be ordered to the pursuit of honest goods, which are primarily common goods, and in the sphere of human action primarily “the” common good (i.e. the primary intrinsic common good of human society). The point that Oekonimika is rightly making is that “the economy” should not be seen as an autonomous sphere concerned with material prosperity as an “end in itself,” not ordered to further ends.

          Like

          • Sancrucensis writes : “Oekonomika is not claiming that the common good has to be the proximate end of every human action”

            I’ll take your word for it because that is not how “ought only be justified by” is understood in common parlance.

            For instance : if I were to write household goods ought only be justified by lowest price and “quest for a happy life”, that would mean proximate end of each purchase is the lowest price of those products that are also ordered towards “a happy life”.

            ____________________

            Sancrucensis writes : “Sure, the proximate end of a given action can be some useful good, but the pursuit of useful goods must be ordered to the pursuit of honest goods, which are primarily common goods, and in the sphere of human action primarily “the” common good”

            “the pursuit of useful goods must be ordered to the pursuit of honest goods, which are primarily common goods”?

            In other words, my purchasing car tires “must be ordered to” the common good. Which brings us back to my prior complaint.

            Because when push comes to shove those useful goods are often particular hard goods purchased for a useful end.

            If you leave off after ” which are primarily common goods” then I would not have a complaint insofar as common goods can be understood to be particular to the management of the household. But when you universalize it to “The” common good that is where the problem is because you’re taking the particular good and making it be justified by a universal good that’s beyond the duty of the particular good.

            ____________________

            Sancrucensis writes : “the economy” should not be seen as an autonomous sphere concerned with material prosperity as an “end in itself,” not ordered to further ends.”

            I agree, but how you are getting to those “further ends” appears to be rather problematic.

            Like

          • I suppose my translation was not clear enough. I could have translated “the existence of human institutions is justified by their promoting the common good and supporting human persons in their search for happiness.” When I buy groceries the proximate end is a useful good, namely food, but food is ordered to honest goods such as the preservation of my substance and convivial festivity, but these honest goods are themselves ordered to further honest goods, and (as I discussed in this post) eventually everything is ordered to goods which are common. This is evident if one takes the eternal viewpoint; everything is ordered to God the absolute common good of all things, but in the temporal order everything is ordered to that temporal good which participates most in the divine good, it is that temporal good which I call “the” common good. Cf. Ethics I,2 and St Thomas’s commentary on the same. Hence one can say that human institutions exist (either proximately or remotely) for the common good and for happiness (the later being merely the attainment of the former). This hierarchy of goods is important because it means that one ought not to seek the proximate end in such a way as to go against the remote ends to which the proximate end is ordered, and that is the basic principle on which Oekonimika’s project is based.

            Like

  2. Pingback: WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON EDITION | Big Pulpit

  3. The one who was being unclear is myself.

    What has bothered me from the beginning with the article you cite was the direction of ordering all going one way from individual good to the more common good. ‘Where as the direction of ordering is both ways, with the emphasis being the ordering toward the good of the individual.

    Because while it can be said that we exist for the good of society, it’s more proper to say that society exists for our good. We’re perfected socially, but our salvation is individually.

    In other words, the family as social institution is not only not justified by some further common good, but the common good such as distributive justice or subsidiarity or similar is justified by how it serves the family. The family has a duty to the good of society such as defense and so forth but it’s not justified by how it serves the good of society because society needs to conform itself to the good of the family so that the family can do its duty for the good of society.

    Using the Church as example. the Church is ordered toward the salvation of the flock and the flock in turn is ordered toward the good of God, and so each aspect of the Church is justified by the good of those it serves. The Church leads the flock, but is servant to the flock.

    Lastly, could you give me a concrete example of what you mean by a temporal common good.

    Like

    • OK, now I think there is a real disagreement. The question here is what is meant by common good. You write, “it can be said that we exist for the good of society, it’s more proper to say that society exists for our good.” It depends what you mean by “the good of society” and “our good”. By “common good” I mean a good which is not diminished by being shared. It is the good of many, but it is still my good. So in a way it is true to say that “society exists for our good” but for our common good, not for our private goods. Let me quote a common teacher of ours on this:

      [S]ome distinctions arising from [the notion of the good as an end] make a per se division of the good, and involve greater and lesser goods, and the order of one good to another. In particular […] some goods are universal in their goodness. Such goods are named “common,” as opposed to “private.” A private good, in the strict sense, can only be the good of a single individual –it cannot at the same time be the good of another individual. My shoes, for example, are my private good; they cannot be given to another without being lost to me. Other goods, however, are universal or common in their goodness, in that they can belong to many at once, with ceasing to be the good of each one of that many. They are shared by many, without being lost or diminished in the sharing. For example, truth, which is the good of the understanding, is a good of this sort; it can be shared by many, without loss or diminution. Thus, one does not try to appropriate such a good; rather, one seeks to share it with others. (This attitude is illustraed even in small matters. When one hears an especially good joke, one can hardly wait to tell it to others; it is “too good to keep to oneself’.”) Such goods and called both “universal” and “common,” the one name determining and clarifying the other. For each of these names is said in several ways. The common which is universal is not opposd to the uncommon –it does not mean “ordinary”– but to the private. And the universal which is common in the strict sense is distinguished from the logical universal (such as the genus), which has only a unity in notion. For the common good is a universal in causando (in causing) and, in one case, a universal in essendo (in being). When one recognizes that a good is common, and not private to oneself, there are two natural consequences. One of these is that one orders oneself to the good, rather than the good to oneself. Wonder, reverence, and dedication naturally result from recognizing that one is exceeded, in some cases infinitely, by the good one desires. […] The other natural consequence is that one sees oneself as part of a whole. The common good is the good of a whole, of which one is a part, and one pursues it and enjoys it as part of that whole.

      That’s from Marcus Berquist’s lecture on the common good. Berquist is of course basing himself on De Koninck’s brilliant, brilliant book that I can’t recommend too highly.

      There are certain common goods which a family has (eg. concord), which are honest goods and as such “for their own sake,” but they are further ordered to more universal common goods. The most universal common good is the extrinsic good of all things, God Himself. But the most universal intrinsic common good is the good of the order of creation, which is the most perfect manifestation of God’s glory outside Himself (and the BVM). That order is destroyed by sin, but is being restored by Christ, and will be fully realized in the heavenly Jerusalem. The heavenly Jerusalem is in a way “for us”, insofar as we attain to its good, but much more truly we are “for it.”

      The primary common good of temporal society is the good of peace, which ought to be a participation in cosmic order. All individuals and families are ordered to that good, so (properly understood) one can agree with Aristotle’s account of the relation of individuals and families to political society: “the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part.” (Politics I, 1253a19)

      Like

  4. Marcus Berquist writes : “When one recognizes that a good is common, and not private to oneself, there are two natural consequences. One of these is that one orders oneself to the good, rather than the good to oneself.”

    Well, since I’m unquestionably the least worthy of all graduates, its only fair I should disagree with Marcus Berquist, (and De Koninck), on some issue of causation.

    Nevertheless, in my simplicity I simply do not see it their way because it’s not how we live and order our lives. Distributive justice is a traditionally understood common good, but how does a man order himself to distributive justice? Or take my favorite common good, subsidiarity, because not only does subsidiarity likewise exist in the subject, i.e. society, but its practical ordering of society is more clearly seen because it by nature cannot be reduced to some disembodied notion. How does a man order himself to subsidiarity?

    They are both means by which we order society for a further good because neither subsidiarity or distributive justice are goods in themselves but exist for a some end. The joke that has to be told is not a good in itself, but is good insofar as it exists to cause mirth in each man who hears it.

    The sacarments have the nature of a common good because they are not diminished by their use, and to the contrary like the common goods more perfectly exist according to their end insofar as they are used most broadly.

    But yet the use of each sacrament is finally ordered to each man in the particular because grace exists not in many but in each man singularly.

    The sacraments are ordered to our nature, including our social nature, as St.Thomas so nicely explains, and in that ordering each sacraments final end is the good of each man individually. Which is the opposite of what Marcus Berquist appears to be saying.

    Like

    • Jokes are pleasant goods, and thus not common goods in the full sense (since only honest goods are good in the full sense).

      Distributive justice and subsidiarity are elements of social peace to which we are indeed ordered: “If I forget you, O City of Peace, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!

      The grace of the sacraments is in a sense ordered to each man, as you say, but not to the private good of each man; to the common good of each man, which is the beauty of the bride of Christ, the heavenly Jerusalem.

      Like

      • sancrucensis writes : “but not to the private good of each man;to the common good of each man”

        This captures both aspect, man as individual as well as man as social. It’s a holistic expression that captures the totality.

        Which in turn is very different from the article you originally cite where the direction of ordering is all going one way from individual good to the more common good. ‘Where as the direction of ordering is both ways, with the emphasis being the ordering toward the good of the individual.
        ____________________

        sancrucensis writes : “Distributive justice and subsidiarity are elements of social peace to which we are indeed ordered”

        We can’t separate ourselves from our nature, and so yes we are ordered to them, but the question is, how are we ordered to them?

        And how are they ordered to each man or family in society?

        I suspect part of the problem is the text you quote from Berquist is a juxtaposition of private to common whereas the actual issue is the ordering of the common. And the ordering of the parts of society to the whole and the whole to the parts.

        As I wrote earlier, there is in some sense a duty when buying eggs to look after more than the good of the family, but that the duty is not all one way.

        Like

  5. Or let me put it this way.

    A man dying in self defense of his family is a natural good, and by extension his dying in self defense of his State,( i.e. polis), is a natural good.

    But a man who sacrifices himself for some disembodied ideal is a fool who sacrifices himself for the unnatural. Is there anything less natural than the oath u.s. federal soldiers take in pledging to defend the constitution?

    A father sacrifices himself for his wife and children because he sees the greater good existing in their good. Similarly is it with all common goods, they exist in the good of society, but they finally exist in the good of those we love.

    A man who sacrifices himself for his loved ones, and by extension his Patria, properly orders himself to the common good. But a man who sacrifices himself to some disembodied notion, no matter how pretty, does not properly order himself to the common good because a common good’s final good is not society in general but society in the particular in each man.

    I wouldn’t walk across the street to save the “universal man”: But I would gladly step in front of a moving bus to save a single child because worth sacrificing for is finally in the individual.

    Like

  6. I agree with most of what you write in your last 2 posts. But I do think that the issue of private vs common is more fundamental than the issue of “the ordering of the parts of society to the whole and the whole to the parts.” De Koninck adresses this in his reply to Eschmann:

    “The main reason why many a personalist has been irked by my essay is that it took him off-guard. Instead of discussing the problem in terms of “person” and “society”, I approach it in the fundamental terms of “proper good” and “common good”. Ultimately, person and society are not to be judged by what they are absolutely, but by what is their perfection, i.e. by what is their good; that is the only way in which Aristotle and St. Thomas ever discussed this problem. To look upon the absolute comparison of person and society as the most basic consideration is distinctly modern. […] From such a point of view, the problem of person and society quite naturally becomes the question: is the person better than society? instead of: is the proper good of the person better than his common good? When the problem itself has been so distorted, what can be expected in the solution? The totalitarian solution is that the individual person is ordered and subjected to society. We are inclined, in rejecting this doctrine, to swing to the opposite extreme; but if we prescind from the common good of the persons which is the final, and therefore first cause of society, we are left with a mere aggregate of individuals.” (http://ldataworks.com/aqr/V4_DST_text.html#DST_h011)

    Like

  7. De Koninck writes : “Ultimately, person and society are not to be judged by what they are absolutely, but by what is their perfection, i.e. by what is their good”

    I have no idea how De Koninck can make the distinction he does because what a person is absolutely, i.e. his nature, is finally best known by his perfection, i.e. his final end.

    Of which society serves in his perfection because it is natural to him, just as the natural law is natural to him.

    Like

  8. To consider a thing “absolutely” is to consider it apart from other things. But “my” perfection is finally not found in my own substance it is found in God, who is the final end of all things.

    The problem against which De Koninck is fighting is that of looking at man absolutely as having infinite dignity, in which case everything else is ordered to him. But in reality man’s dignity only comes from his order to an end that exceeds him. Hence De Koninck writes the following:

    “the rational creature draws its dignity from the fact that, by its proper operation, by its intelligence and its love it can attain to the ultimate end of the universe. “Intellectual and rational creatures exceed other creatures both by the perfection of their nature, and by the dignity of their end. […] By the dignity of their end, because only the intellectual creature rises as high as the very ultimate end of the universe, namely, by knowing God and loving Him; whereas other creatures cannot attain to this end except by a certain participation in His likeness.” Hence the rational creature, insofar as it can itself attain to the end of God’s manifestation outside Himself, exists for itself. […] But, that does not mean that rational creatures exist for the dignity of their own being and that they are themselves the dignity for which they exist. They draw their dignity from the end to which they can and must attain; their dignity consists in the fact that they can attain to the end of the universe, the end of the universe being, in this regard, for the rational creatures, that is for each of them. Still, the good of the universe is not for rational creatures as if the latter were the end of the former. The good of the universe is the good of each of the rational creatures insofar as it is their good as common good.”

    Also check this out:
    http://www.goodcatholicbooks.org/dekoninck/goodness/being-and-goodness.html

    Like

  9. Alright, I see what he is saying.

    De Koninck writes : “The good of the universe is the good of each of the rational creatures insofar as it is their good as common good.””

    The problem De Konink is addressing is not towards me. My only disagreement is my typical one that men are not merely rational creatures, but rational creatures inseparable from their flesh so that the good of the universe is the good of unified body and soul.

    Further, while the universe and society are not quite analogous, nevertheless, I don’t see any difficulty with : “The good of society (sic) is the good of each of member of society (sic) insofar as it is their good as common good.” Especially because the ordering is what I’ve been saying from the beginning.

    Like

    • I should add, in case it’s not clear, the members of society by and large spend their lives in private homes on private property preparing privately owned meals and sleeping in privately owned bed and so forth. As a result the common good is directed to those private goods because it would be a strange and perverse society that did not order itself to how men live while awaiting that infinite common good.

      As I tell my clients with land on top of hills or top of apartment buildings, the view out the window may be lovely, but design your home for living in, not staring out of.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s